Women living with HIV are up to six times more likely to develop cervical cancer, and roughly 110,000 women in sub-Saharan Africa are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually. Approximately 66% of those women will die from the disease, making it one of the deadliest cancers for women in the region.
Cervical cancer is a disease of inequity. Factors such as socioeconomic status, stigma, lack of access to health care, and limited public awareness can contribute to the likelihood of infection. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) estimates that nine out of ten women who die of cervical cancer live in low-and-middle-income countries.
Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day and this year’s theme – “close the care gap” – is focused on addressing the barriers that prevent people from accessing lifesaving cancer care. At the George W. Bush Institute, we’re committed to ensuring women who survive HIV don’t die of cervical cancer. That’s why we launched the Go Further partnership in 2018.
Go Further is an innovative public-private partnership between the Bush Institute, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), UNAIDS, Merck, and Roche that seeks to eliminate cervical cancer and HIV among women in sub-Saharan Africa. The partnership collaborates closely with PEPFAR partner governments across 12 countries in the region to strategize the best methods for providing services for women throughout their cancer journey.
This World Cancer Day, we are reflecting on the immense progress Go Further has made toward closing the care gap for women in sub-Saharan Africa and eliminating cervical cancer.
Go Further has conducted over 7.4 million cervical cancer screenings to date. Of those screenings, approximately 74.7% represent women screened for the first time.
Go Further countries work to meet or surpass the World Health Organization’s (WHO) treatment goals set forth in its 2018 global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. These goals include: ensuring 90% of girls within the country are fully vaccinated against HPV by 15, 70% of eligible women are screened for cervical cancer with a high-performance test at specified age intervals, and 90% of women identified with precancerous lesions and invasive cervical cancer are treated and provided care.
Several countries have made significant progress toward achieving these WHO goals. Between fiscal years (FY) 2018 and 2022, over 285,000 treatments for precancerous lesions were performed across all Go Further countries for an overall treatment rate of 76.7%.
Community-based partnerships are critical to the work done by PEPFAR and Go Further, as they play a vital role throughout a patient’s journey. For example, in Namibia, practitioners work alongside civil society organizations to ensure that women can easily get connected to cervical cancer care. As of FY2022, 92% of women living with HIV who screened positive for precancerous lesions received treatment.
However, challenges still persist. Achieving global elimination targets by 2030 depends on improvements across the entire continuum of care including prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment, care, and survivorship. Support and harmonization of appropriate policies and guidelines as well as resourcing, both human and financial, is critical. Through partnerships like Go Further we can begin to address these challenges and go even further for women.