World AIDS Day call to action: screen HIV+ women for cervical cancer

Posted by On November 30, 2016

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon had its origins five years ago in the idea that we must look more broadly at the health issues faced by women who are vulnerable to and living with HIV.  

Women have benefited from the progress against HIV and AIDS in recent years, thanks to efforts by the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR, a PRRR partner), UNAIDS (another PRRR partner), and others. As evidence of progress, consider that women experienced a 52% decrease globally in AIDS-related deaths from 2005 to 2015, and a 36% decrease in new infections between 2000 and 2015. But in the parts of the world where HIV and AIDS remain a particular challenge, they are far from the only deadly threat to women.

Cervical cancer, for example, is a persistent, rising health challenge in all developing countries, and the leading cause of death from cancer among all women in sub-Saharan Africa. It is closely linked with HIV. Women living with HIV are at least 5 times more likely to develop cervical cancer than their HIV-negative peers, and have twice the risk for death from invasive cervical cancer within three years than women without HIV.

But cervical cancer is preventable, even in HIV-positive women. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon works to protect young girls from cervical cancer later in life by vaccinating them against the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes most cases of cervical cancer, and to find and treat pre-cancerous cervical lesions in adult women before they develop into cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is also treatable in many cases.

Lessons from and achievements in the fight against HIV and AIDS, especially those of PEPFAR, are the foundation for Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s work to address cervical cancer (and breast cancer, as well). Like the programs that have successfully reduced HIV incidence, prevalence and rates of death, our programs have the following features:

  • Integrated Approach: HIV prevention and treatment programs and reproductive health programs play a strategic role in expanding screening and treatment for cervical cancer. 
  • Country Leadership and Stewardship: Working from nationally adopted strategic plans, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon seeks to empower national governments and their partners to design, lead, own and account for their own programs. Local movements that fight women’s cancer are at the heart of our approach.
  • Partnership: An independent, non-profit affiliate of the George W. Bush Institute, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon benefits from the support of more than 20 donor and partner organizations.

Our call to action this World AIDS Day is that every woman living with HIV should be screened for cervical cancer as an urgent priority, to decrease the rates of cervical cancer around the world, especially among HIV-positive women. 

By Jennie Aylward, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Consultant