Why Cervical Cancer Advocacy Is More Important Than Ever
July 14, 2020
First, I would like to acknowledge the vision and tireless efforts of Celina Schocken, co-founder of TogetHER, who along with Kathy Vizas, launched this organization in 2017. In only a few short years, TogetHER has become a trusted partner committed to championing global cervical cancer prevention. It is a testament to Celina’s hard work and determination to have brought this organization so far, in such a short period. We’re fortunate to have Celina and Kathy continuing to guide TogetHER in advisory roles. On behalf of the TogetHER team, and our partners, thank you!
As of July 1st, I have stepped into the role of Executive Director at TogetHER for Health. I am both excited and a bit daunted to take on this role, especially at this time. With the advent of COVID-19 earlier this year, the challenges facing the cervical cancer community, and the broader sexual and reproductive health community, are considerable.
The COVID-19 crisis has severely limited access to essential health services for girls and women. Cervical cancer prevention programs, as well as the broader suite of sexual and reproductive health services, have been significantly reduced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. An April 2020 report published by Guttmacher Institute estimates that service disruptions for family planning services could result in 49 million women with an unmet need for modern contraception and an additional 15 million unintended pregnancies across low and middle-income countries. Along with a lack of access to primary health services, school closures are likely to result in decreased HPV immunization rates among eligible girls. Reduced access to screening and treatment programs will leave women vulnerable to the effects of cervical disease.
Beyond these immediate impacts, societal impacts will be felt long after the pandemic subsides, with girls who do not return to school having missed critical immunizations and educational opportunities.
Reduced access to HPV vaccination, cervical screening and treatment services threatens hard-won progress against cervical cancer—a disease that the World Health Organization (WHO) has targeted for elimination. This is why the TogetHER team, along with global partners, have drafted a global Call to Action calling for the return of cervical cancer prevention and treatment services, as COVID-19 restrictions ease, and health providers and their clients are able to safely return to facilities for SRH care. We also have an opportunity to invest and scale new, client-centered approaches for cervical screening, like HPV self-sampling, or telemedicine to offer virtual consultations between providers and clients to reduce the face-to-face consultations, as possible.
If you are interested in signing on to TogetHER’s COVID-19/SRH Call to Action, please reach out to [email protected].
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, advocating for global cervical cancer prevention and control is more important than ever. Let us collectively commit ourselves to finding safe and effective ways to support women and girls against cervical cancer today, and in the future. As cervical cancer advocates, champions and practitioners, we need each other more than ever too.
Heather & TogetHER for Health Team