Building a future free of cervical cancer in Africa

The disease can be eliminated with improved access to vaccination, screening and treatment.

Nurse Peace counsels a patient prior to a cervical cancer screening in Minna, Nigeria. © WHO / Blink Media / Etinosa Yvonne

Cervical cancer, which is caused by certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV), presents a significant public health threat to women on the African continent — all but one of the top 20 countries worldwide with the highest burden of cervical cancer in 2018 were in Africa.

Cervical cancer is curable if diagnosed and treated early. The tragedy is that while this type of cancer is preventable, poor access to prevention, screening and treatment contributes to 90% of deaths.

Dr Bello and her team treat a patient at the RAiSE Foundation in Minna, Nigeria. © WHO / Blink Media / Etinosa Yvonne

To end needless suffering from a cancer that is both preventable and curable, 194 countries committed to WHO’s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, launched in November 2020.

The strategy outlines three key steps: vaccination, screening and treatment. Reaching the targets outlined in the strategy would put the world on the path toward elimination of the disease within the century.

A scientist works in the Department of Medical Laboratory Services at the general hospital in Minna, Nigeria. © WHO / Blink Media / Etinosa Yvonne

In Nigeria, WHO supported the development and implementation of the country’s national plan against cervical cancer. To help build the capacity of the health sector to address cervical cancer, WHO supported for the training of over 1000 care providers, ranging from midwifery graduates to medical directors. WHO also trains health officials in advocacy for the prevention and treatment of the disease, and provides evidence-based guidance and treatment tools.

Organizations like RAiSE Foundation are also working to improve access to cervical cancer screening and prevention in the country. The Foundation aims to increase awareness about issues affecting the survival and growth of women and girls in Nigeria. It was established by Dr Amina Abubakar Bello, a gynecologist, obstetrician, and the first lady of Niger State. RAiSE offers financially accessible screenings, and any woman found with cancer or precancerous lesions is given free treatment.

Patients wait for consultations at Donka University Hospital in Conakry, Guinea. © WHO / Blink Media / Ricci Shryock

In Guinea, cervical cancer is responsible for 40% of cancer diagnoses for women. The Francophone Regional Centre for Training and Prevention of Gynecological Cancers plays a key role in preventing and treating the disease in West Africa. Located at Donka University in Conakry, the centre offers screenings and treatment of precancerous and cancerous lesions, including surgical treatment and chemotherapy when necessary. Between 2007 and 2020, almost 30 000 women were screened for cervical cancer at the centre.

The centre’s equipment for screening and treating precancerous lesions was provided by WHO, which also finances cervical cancer screening and treatment training sessions at both the national and regional levels.

Kadiatou Diallo speaks about cervical cancer prevention in Conakry, Guinea. © WHO / Blink Media / Ricci Shryock

Kadiatou Diallo is a cervical cancer survivor who received treatment at the centre. She was diagnosed in 2010 and went into remission in 2012. Now, she makes sure to return for an annual check up every year, and she speaks openly to her colleagues and community about cervical cancer prevention.

The elimination of cervical cancer is within the reach of all countries. Through widespread access to HPV vaccination, screening, and treatment, girls who are born today could live to see a world free of this disease.

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The World Health Organization provides global leadership in public health within the United Nations system. Founded in 1948, WHO works with 194 Member States, across six regions and from more than 150 offices, to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable.

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