PAHO strategy calls for strengthening existing programs and adopting new technologies
Washington, D.C., October 2, 2008 (PAHO)—Member countries of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) pledged support today for a new PAHO strategy to fight cervical cancer, a disease that claims some 27,500 women's lives each year in the Americas.
The strategy calls for stepped-up action and investments to strengthen screening and prevention programs in Latin America and the Caribbean and also urges countries to consider adopting newly available HPV vaccines and new screening technologies. It was approved by PAHO's Directing Council, which is holding its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., this week.
The PAHO Regional Strategy and Plan of Action for Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control addresses problems that have kept cervical cancer mortality rates relatively high in Latin America and the Caribbean, unlike in North America, where deaths from the disease dropped precipitously during the last half-century thanks to screening programs using the Pap test. Women in Latin America and the Caribbean today face seven times the risk of death from cervical cancer than women in North America.
Pap tests have been used in Latin America and the Caribbean for more than 30 years but have failed to produce dramatic reductions in cervical cancer mortality. Experts say the reasons include problems of access to health services; poor coverage, organization and follow-up in screening and treatment programs; low public awareness of the disease; and socio-cultural factors that limit women's access to information as well as their ability to demand and use prevention services.
In signing on to the PAHO strategy, health authorities called for upgrading current prevention and treatment programs utilizing new, evidence-based technologies, particularly in low-resource settings. These include the "screen and treat" approach, in which visual inspection screening is used to detect abnormal cancer cells and is then followed with immediate treatment using cryotherapy to remove precancerous cells. In PAHO-sponsored studies, the method has proven to be equally or more effective than Pap smears in low-resource settings.
The countries also pledged to consider available data to make evidence-based policy decisions for the introduction of HPV vaccines, with emphasis on sustainability. The current price of HPV vaccines is $360 per woman, much more than most vaccines. The countries called on PAHO to advocate for more "equitable access" to the vaccines and other new technologies, including direct DNA testing for HPV.
The PAHO strategy also calls for strengthening countries' health systems using primary health care strategies and providing cervical cancer prevention and treatment as part of community health care. The strategy also calls for social communication campaigns to increase awareness about cervical cancer and healthy sexual behavior among adolescents, adult men and women, and health professionals.
The Pan American Health Organization, founded in 1902, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their peoples. It serves as the Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO).