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A Tale of Two Realities

While the Olympics attempts to elevate countries to the same playing field, there are usually clear winners and losers. Global cervical cancer statistics reveal a similar story.

Article by Crystal Cazier and Temi Omilabu February 2, 2018 //   3 minute read
A girl in pre-school at Gabane Community Home in Botswana holds up American flags made of paper and twigs in anticipation of President and Mrs. Bush's visit.

The Olympics is a time of international coming-together. Individually, athletes compete to showcase their abilities and bring home medals. And every two years, nations put aside their differences and come together in a display of international unity.

But there’s more to the Olympics than athletics and kumbaya. While the games attempt to elevate countries to the same playing field, there are usually clear winners and losers – countries that sweep the gold, silver, and bronze with their national anthems ringing continuously throughout Olympic Village, versus those that can’t reach the podium.

Global cervical cancer statistics reveal a similar story. Although cervical cancer is preventable, there are clear winners and losers when it comes to countries carrying the burden of this disease. Women in sub-Saharan Africa are more likely to develop cervical cancer and eight times more likely to die from it than women in the United States. Cervical cancer affects approximately 500,000 women every year, and over 80% of the affected women live in low and middle-income countries. The disparity exists for many reasons, most notably the lack of access to HPV vaccines.

In the U.S., HPV vaccine awareness continues to grow. In 2016, about 50% of adolescent girls ages 13-17 had completed all required doses. In low and middle-income countries, however, awareness of the vaccine’s significance is low. The vaccine’s adoption rate in low and middle-income countries has been much slower than in high-income countries. Additionally, many low-income countries struggle to finance a sufficient quantity for national uptake and sustainability. In fact, coverage among adolescents ages 10-20 is 10 times higher in developed regions than in less developed ones.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s nationwide programs in Botswana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Zambia have screened 465,000 women for cervical cancer and treated 30,000 women for cervical pre-cancer. Cervical cancer is preventable, and no woman should die due to lack of access to prevention or treatment.

We all must do our part to reduce cancer’s global burden, remembering those who are most vulnerable, and accelerate progress toward a cancer-free future. When we reach a world free of cervical cancer, we can give ourselves a gold medal.