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The importance of political leadership in the fight against cervical cancer
Cervical cancer is both the second most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer mortality among women in Africa. In Africa, cervical cancer incidence rates are four times higher and mortality rates are ten times higher than in North America. Furthermore, women living with HIV have compromised immune systems that leave them at greater risk for human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most cases of cervical cancer. These factors necessitate policy that encourages HPV vaccination and increases prioritization of screening and treatment for precancerous lesions in HIV-positive women. Such policies carry the most weight when supported by political leadership.
A supportive policy environment is critical to the elimination of cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. The Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer, which is working with countries in sub-Saharan Africa to eliminate cervical cancer in women living with HIV, acknowledges this. The eight countries receiving support under this partnership are committed to decreasing the effect of cervical cancer through their National Cancer Control Policies (NCCPs) and Non Communicable Disease (NCD) plans. Their NCCPs and NCDs declare goals, objectives, and specific implementation plans that increase political leadership toward cervical cancer prevention.
Namibia’s NCCP includes “creat[ing] enabling policy and legal environment for prevention of NCDs and their risk factors” as one of its priorities. Zambia’s implementation plan envisions increasing government leadership to ensure “cancer services are taken on board in the review of a health care package, health legislation, policies, and strategies." Malawi and Lesotho both call for education to increase understanding and support for cervical cancer as a priority in their health and development agendas. These three countries show how political leadership should be involved in cervical cancer and NCD prevention.
Advocating for stronger political force toward cervical cancer prevention enables significant progress. Studies show that a lack of policy guidance for cervical cancer can negatively affect the rates of cervical cancer screening and treatment. The study further indicates the vital role political environments play in cervical cancer prevention and control. A supportive political environment motivates residents to own their health.
Where there has been sustained political will, there is promise for the elimination of cervical cancer. Rwanda demonstrates the impact of political leadership. Their accelerated progress toward cervical cancer control is largely attributed to the people’s trust in their government. Developing countries continue to show political leadership in the advancement of their national cervical cancer prevention programs, and it is in our interest to support them. The Partnership to End AIDS and Cervical Cancer is doing just that.
Read the Bush Institute’s 2019 Policy Recommendations: Policy Recommendations: Improving Health and Security Around the World
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