Nothing else in the world ... is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. While these words were written by Victor Hugo over 150 years ago, they have never been more apt than in regards to the idea of universal access to cervical cancer prevention services. In late May, nearly 500 key players* gathered at the Global Forum on Cervical Cancer Prevention in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The goal of the forum was to elevate cervical cancer on the world stage and to ensure that preventing it becomes a priority. One of the speakers pointedly asked:
If this affected men in the same way, would we have to advocate so hard to get diagnosis and treatment implemented?The response is clearly stated in the call to action: “The world has the resources, the tools and the opportunity to act now." Grounds for Health Executive Director August Burns led a key session, “Engaging Community to Champion Cervical Cancer Prevention,” which highlighted the essential role the local community plays in effective cervical cancer prevention programs—that for programs to have a meaningful and lasting impact, community engagement must be seen as a critical component on equal footing to prevention technologies. [caption id="attachment_4152" align="aligncenter" width="480"] August Burns facilitating a panel discussion highlighting the importance of community engagement in cervical cancer prevention programs.[/caption] This community session created a lively discussion with numerous perspectives supporting Ms. Burns' themes. Emee Aquino, who founded an advocacy group in the Philippines following the death of her sister at age 41, spoke about going to schools, workplaces, and people’s homes to educate about the importance of screening and treatment. Dr. Sharon Kapambwe, a Zambian physician and head of her country’s cervical cancer control program, shared how they have effectively integrated existing community leaders—including traditional marriage counselors—into their efforts to bring women to screening. Finally, Portia Serote, an HIV activist from South Africa, spoke passionately about empowering women to advocate for themselves to demand and receive appropriate services. In addition to the Grounds for Health-led forum on community, there were sessions about the current state of research about cervical cancer, breaking down barriers to access, the HPV vaccine, integrating prevention services into other health services, ensuring treatment following screening, the role of the media in this prevention work, and how to scale up to meet the global needs. Finally there were regional sessions during which issues specific to Africa, Asia and Latin America were discussed. The energy and excitement generated by the event was evidenced by the hundreds of people who added their names to the call to action during the forum and over the course of the Women Deliver Conference. We encourage all Grounds for Health supporters to sign this call action. We need to “make noise” about this powerful idea of universal access to cervical cancer prevention. This is an idea whose time has definitely come.
* Attendees included service providers, First Ladies, government ministers, activists, program implementers, policy writers, researchers and advocates representing governments, private companies, academic institutions and NGOs.