PAHO/WHO concerned over increase in T&T breast, cervical cancer deaths

paho_logoWASHINGTON D.C.– The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) said they have brought together this week various stakeholders, including government representatives and academic institutions to develop a plan of action for reducing deaths caused by breast and cervical cancer.

The two UN organizations said that the meeting, which will also be attended by the private sector, is to develop a plan of action for screening, early diagnosis, education and treatment for these cancers and for expanded vaccination against human papillomavirus (HPV). They said an estimated 400,000 women are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer each year in the Americas, and at least 20,000 die from these diseases. Both types of cancer are preventable and treatable through screening, early diagnosis and proper treatment.

“For a public health problem of this magnitude, and given that we have the know-how and technology to save lives, we urgently need all sectors of society to work together to help ensure equitable access to cancer prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care,” said newly appointed PAHO Director Dr. Carissa  Etienne. “That is why today, we are galvanizing the support of the international health community to jointly accelerate breast and cervical cancer prevention and control in the Americas,” the Domincan born PAHO official added.

The announcement by the UN health organisations come as a controversy rages here following a recent decision by the Trinidad and Tobago government to cancel a HPV vaccination programme for schools. The government cancelled the programme following concerns from parents and the Roman Catholic Church that not enough public education had been undertaken on the Gardasil vaccination programme. But other organisations including the Trinidad and Tobago United Teachers Association (TTUTA) and the Family Planning Association (FPA) backed the government initiative.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, opposition legislator Dr. Amery Browne said cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death due to cancer among women in Trinidad and Tobago and that the vaccine Gardasil was developed and approved by the US FDA during the last decade as “a safe and scientifically proven means of preventing infection with many of the dangerous strains of HPV which cause cervical cancer and some other genital cancers. “Gardasil vaccination has been widely implemented in a number of countries already, and its safety profile has been excellent compared to many other vaccines that are routinely accepted.

“Unfortunately there are several groups and websites that have been propagating misinformation about Gardasil, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  The associated controversy should have informed any responsible government about the need for proper planning and comprehensive education of the population prior to initiating any Gardasil Programme in our nation’s schools.”

Dr. Browne said he is in “full support of a voluntary HPV vaccination programme for our young women and young men” but urged the government to implement several measures including a comprehensive public education campaign and take immediate steps toward increasing the number of women who access regular Pap smears in the primary health care system.PAHO and WHO said they were pleased to be teaming up with several international organisations including the Women’s Cancer Initiative in hosting the meeting.

In addition to the Political Declaration of the U.N. High Level Meeting on NCDs in 2011, the recently adopted WHO Global Monitoring Framework for NCDs calls for a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality from NCDs by 2025,’ said Dr. Etienne. “It has provided governments with tangible targets and indicators for cancer incidence, cervical cancer screening, and HPV vaccination. It is up to those of us gathered here today to guide efforts and investments to support governments to achieve these targets and indicators.”

The UN bodies said that the multi-year plan of action that will result from this week’s meeting will include advocacy and communications to mobilize women, communities and stakeholders; improvements in health service capacity for breast and cervical cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care; scaled up access to HPV vaccination; and expanded research.

CMC, Caribbean360

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