As cervical cancer deaths drop in the US, women in the developing world are dying at an unprecedented rate. Last year, nearly 300,000 women died of cervical cancer, most of them in developing countries. Cervical cancer, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), is a preventable disease — it can be stopped by the HPV vaccine, and by routine screening programs.
We have greatly reduced deaths from cervical cancer in the developed world, but the disease grows in developing countries. Why?
Cervical cancer is a disease fueled by poverty and poor access to healthcare. It grows slowly, so women with access to regular health care are generally diagnosed before it is too late. Women with HIV are five times more likely to develop the disease, due to their compromised immune systems. And women throughout Africa who have symptoms are afraid to be tested because so little treatment is available. Women with cancers are often stigmatized. They are told it is their fault — they cheated on their husbands, or someone did witchcraft on them.
We can turn the tide on cervical cancer in Africa. We need to redouble our efforts to vaccinate girls. We need to talk about the importance of screening, and encourage women to be tested. And we need better, cheaper, easier to use tests.
Women in developed countries are used to routine pap smears. But those tests don’t work as well in low-resource countries. Instead, vinegar is the most common diagnostic tool. By applying ordinary table vinegar to the cervix, waiting a few minutes, and then shining a flashlight, health workers can identify the tell-tale white signs of developing cervical cancer. This approach works, but we have found there are not enough trained health workers and, without proper supervision, they struggle to screen and identify cervical cancer.
To get to the scale we need — testing all women over the age of 30, ideally every five years — we need accurate, fast, inexpensive tests that can be performed in poorly-equipped health centers. Ideally, women could take the test on their own, without a pelvic exam.
So it is great news that Global Good Fund — a collaboration between Bill Gates and Intellectual Ventures to invent technology for use in developing countries- has announced that they are working with QuantuMDx, to develop a new test for HPV aimed at women in low resource settings. The new test will be affordably priced, easy to use, and highly accurate.
To learn more about HPV diagnostics, and how they will be used in developing countries, please read the analysis written by Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon,Investing in Cervical Cancer Screening: A Point of Care Test HPV Diagnostic to Reduce Cervical Cancer Deaths in Developing Countries.
I’m looking forward to seeing this test in action around the world. Women’s lives depend on it.
Celina Schocken joined Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon as Chief Executive Officer in 2016, after working on the development of new technology to improve women’s health in low- and middle-income countries with Global Good, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Jhpiego, and several start-ups. She previously served as Director of Policy and Advocacy at Merck for Mothers, where she led the Saving Mothers, Giving Life public-private partnership.
This post first appeared on Medium