At the core of global health work is a focus on the person. While we face diverse health challenges all over the world, our enduring concern for how individual people get and stay healthy can bring together partners whose work can synthesize efforts for better outcomes.
It is in that spirit that Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria are joining efforts to prevent cervical cancer by integrating Human Papillomavirus (HPV) screening and early treatment into HIV programs.
In an agreement signed in Windhoek, Namibia, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) and the Global Fund committed to strengthening their efforts to save the lives of women and girls affected by these diseases in southern Africa.
The diseases are intricately intertwined and are major health concerns in the region. Like HIV, HPV – which can cause cervical cancer – is easily transmitted through sexual contact. The risk of HIV infection can increase up to four times following an HPV infection. Women living with HIV develop cervical cancer at much younger ages, and the progress of the disease is much more rapid. There are many cases where women living with HIV have been kept alive through access to treatment only to die of cervical cancer.
Additionally, HIV positive women are up to five times more likely to develop cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women worldwide. Globally, the disease logs 528,000 new cases and 266,000 deaths every year. More than 85 percent of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. Global heath partners must step up the fight against these diseases.
At 14.7 percent incidence rate, cervical cancer is also Namibia’s second-most common cancer after breast cancer. That incidence rate rises up to 30 percent in regions of the country with higher HIV prevalence. In 2015, HIV prevalence among women aged 15 to 49 in the country was estimated at 16.9 percent nationally. The Global Fund and PRRR partnership is going to invest more resources in the regions of the country where women have higher HIV prevalence.
Over the years, the Global Fund has contributed to responding to HPV by investing in strengthening resilience and sustainability of health systems, as well as in maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health. It is time to go further.
In the new agreement, the Global Fund will use efficiency savings from investments in HIV to expand efforts to integrate HPV screening and early treatment in countries where it already supports HIV programs. The partnership will also raise awareness about the need for more attention on the relationship between the two diseases.
In setting up the new partnership, PRRR and the Global Fund are demonstrating their commitment to respond to a deadly duo that continues to kill many women in low- and middle-income countries. Guided by countries where the partnership will operate, we expect that this effort will go on to save many lives and build even more livelihoods. By achieving the goals of this partnership, we will stay true to the calling to focus on the needs of a person, a family, a community, not a disease.
Marijke Wijnroks is the Chief Of Staff of the Global Fund.