Faces, not Numbers

Putting faces to the statistics on cervical cancer

Too often, stories about cervical cancer are dominated by numbers. The numbers at risk, the numbers diagnosed, the numbers dying. And consider what will happen if we do nothing: the number of women dying of cervical cancer will double by 2030.These numbers are startling.

What’s often lost is the women behind these numbers. Women in the prime of their lives—working hard, raising families, and contributing to their communities. These are mostly women living in low- and middle-income countries, often times in conditions of extreme poverty.  

Yet we rarely hear their names. We rarely hear their voices or see their faces. Instead, they become numbers. Numbers that keep growing year on year, without fail, even when we have the tools to prevent cervical cancer. 

In honor of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, the American Cancer Society and TogetHER for Health have collaborated to put a face to these numbers. In the second installment of “Faces of Hope”, we detail the stories of five women on the front lines of the fight against cervical cancer in India. 

  • Jagwati, a community health worker tirelessly encouraging the women of her village to seek cervical cancer screening 
  • Savitha, the mother of a young teenage daughter, who was determined to find accurate information about HPV vaccination; her daughter was vaccinated and she now shares information with others
  • Neerja, a leading Indian physician who, having seen cervical cancer kill too many patients, is driving efforts to expand cervical cancer prevention efforts across India 
  • Sangeeta, a cervical cancer survivor who bravely shares her story so that others may take preventive actions like HPV vaccination and pre-cancer screening & treatment 
  • Lakshmi, a rural woman diagnosed with cervical pre-cancer who overcame her own anxieties to seek treatment, and now fights the stigma that prevents women from seeking care 

In May, the World Health Organization plans to approve a strategy for the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem. The strategy is intended to support women like Lakshmi, Savitha and Jagwati. They will be the front line of efforts to turn the tide against cervical cancer. 

There will be many numbers in the strategy and many more driving its execution. These are the numbers that are most critical—the resources that governments, civil society and donors must commit to, to implement this comprehensive strategy. We owe nothing less to the brave women who fight cervical cancer each day in their own communities.  

By Jacqui Drope, American Cancer Society, and Celina Schocken, TogetHER for Health