December 1, 2017, marks the 29th annual World AIDS Day – a day observed since 1988 to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and to remember those who have lost their lives to the disease. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon focuses on cervical cancer prevention among women who survive HIV.
AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) is the most advanced stage of HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) infection. It is most commonly spread through sharing needles or sexual contact. Additionally, newborn babies can become infected with HIV through mother-to-child transmission during pregnancy, childbirth, or breastfeeding. The virus attacks and destroys the immune system’s CD4 cells, which fight infections. Lacking CD4 cells significantly weakens the immune system and makes it difficult to fight infections and certain cancers. For this reason, scientists have observed a link between HIV and cervical cancer.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes most cases of cervical cancer. Two specific strains – HPV-16 and HPV-18 – cause 74% of cervical cancer cases. If a woman living with HIV becomes infected with HPV, there is a good chance, given her already weakened immune system, that the HPV infection could cause cervical cancer. In fact, women living with HIV are 4-5 times more likely to develop cervical cancer than HIV-negative women.
Given the link between HIV and HPV, and recognizing that cervical cancer is an AIDS-defining malignancy, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is focused on leveraging an integrated approach to cervical cancer prevention. As former President George W. Bush has emphasized, women who have been given life-saving treatment for HIV should not die from a preventable disease like cervical cancer. In addressing the cervical cancer burden in Sub-Saharan Africa, we must acknowledge HIV-positive women.
This World AIDS Day, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon remains committed to ending unnecessary deaths from cervical cancer. Vaccination and early detection can reverse the course of cervical cancer, and adding to HIV platforms can help us reach even more women and save more lives.