World AIDS Day 2021

December 1, 2021

Today is World AIDS Day, a day to commemorate those lost to this disease, to recognize the continuing struggle to scale up lifesaving treatments for all, and to reaffirm commitments to expanding access to prevention strategies to end HIV/AIDS as a global health threat. HIV/AIDS has especially ravaged Sub-Saharan Africa, where two out of every three people living with HIV reside. HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacts women and girls, who account for more than half the number of people living with HIV worldwide.

Efforts to sustain the health of these women and girls living with HIV must also stave off the danger represented by another preventable disease: cervical cancer.

The dire confluence of HIV/AIDs and cervical cancer has been well-documented, with women living with HIV having a sixfold risk of a cervical cancer diagnosis compared to their HIV-negative peers. Fortunately, HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer are not only both preventable: with concerted political commitment and resources, we can end both diseases. Addressing the double burden of HIV and cervical cancer has increasingly become an area of focus:

  • The Go Further partnership consisting of the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the United Nations Joint Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the George W. Bush Institute, Merck, and Roche has in just a few years expanded cervical cancer prevention programs to women living with HIV in 8 African countries, with plans to add 4 new countries in 2022. This partnership has screened 2.3 million women living with HIV for cervical cancer and provided treatment of precancerous lesions for 88,000 women.
  • The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria began supporting country requests for cervical cancer prevention programs for women living with HIV as part of its three-year New Funding Model (NFM) 2 period (2017-2019). In its current NFM 3 period, the Global Fund provided support for cervical cancer programs to 20 countries, up from just 11 in NFM 2.
  • To ensure lifesaving prevention services get to more women living with HIV at heightened risk of cervical cancer, the World Health Organization recently updated its cervical cancer screening and treatment guidelines, emphasizing DNA testing for the strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause almost all cervical cancer cases and recommending earlier and more regular screening for women living with HIV.

TogetHER has joined with partners from across the cervical cancer and HIV/AIDS advocacy efforts to call on PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and the United States Agency for International Development to provide clear timelines on when HPV testing would be implemented in their cervical cancer prevention programs. We were pleased to see that the recently released draft PEPFAR Country Operating Plan Guidance reflects this shift toward HPV testing.

While the current funding available for cervical cancer prevention in low- and lower middle-income countries falls far short of what’s necessary to achieve elimination, progress is being made. TogetHER and our partners know a world without HIV/AIDS and cervical cancer is possible, and we remain committed to making the needed political and financial commitment a reality.

“Jamaa el Fna” by Jorge Lascar is licensed under CC BY 2.0