Cancer survivors were given the unique opportunity to share their journeys with spouses and partners of Commonwealth Heads of Governments and Foreign Ministers at a luncheon on cervical cancer elimination.
Hosted by Rwanda’s First Lady, H.E. Jeannette Kagame, and husband of the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr Richard Mawhinney, the event brought together First Ladies, cancer survivors, international health organisations and members of the International Taskforce on Cervical Cancer Elimination in the Commonwealth.
In her opening remarks, H.E. Mrs Kagame underscored the urgency of the global elimination effort. She said, “Cervical cancer is a preventable biological calamity, a socio-economic threat, and an entire civilization’s moral trial, that condemns 9 out of 10 diagnosed women in low and middle-income nations, to a premature passing.”
“Regardless of the grimness of the situation, the facts are that there is hope, there is reason, there are resources, and there are solutions,” she added.
Delegates at the event heard that, though the Commonwealth represents only 30 per cent of the world’s population, it accounts for 40 per cent of global cervical cancer incidence and 43 per cent of cervical cancer mortality.
In an impassioned plea for urgent action, cancer survivor, Karen Nakawala, spoke about the devastating impact of cancer. She said: “Going through cancer impacts your life in all forms, in all sorts.
“As a woman, it impacts your sexuality, it impacts your mental health, it impacts your physical health, so it impacts you in more ways than you can imagine, and I think that is why I get annoyed when I hear a woman has died of cervical cancer – a cancer that we can eliminate because we have the tools, and we have the know-how. So why are we still letting our sisters die?”
She was joined by Summer Ng, who was diagnosed with cervical cancer at 24. Ng and social innovator Cindy Chng, who recently launched the A4HPV – a task force under the Commonwealth Youth Health Network focused on advocating for action towards cervical cancer elimination – distributed cloth bags with self-sampling swabs, to demonstrate that testing of HPV can be less invasive and less uncomfortable for women when simple innovations like self-sampling are adopted.
World Health Organization’s Assistant Director-General for Family, Women, Children and Adolescents, Dr Princess Nothemba Simelela, urged the Commonwealth spouses to continue leveraging their social capital in advocating for expanded access to cervical cancer prevention and treatment services, and to share experiences to achieve their common goals toward elimination.
The programme also included the launch of the Commonwealth version of the documentary, Conquering Cancer, which highlights cervical cancer elimination initiatives in various Commonwealth countries. The documentary was widely welcomed, and delegates agreed to promote it in their own countries, to increase awareness of Cervical Cancer.
H.E. Mrs Rossana Briceno, the spouse of the Prime Minister of Belize, told delegates:
“Today I remain committed to objectives laid out by our ministers of health but beyond this I remain fully committed to using my office to increase our efforts at greater awareness, to reduce the risk of women developing cervical cancer. We cannot and will not allow women to live with the fear that they may be the next victim of this preventable life-threatening disease.”
The initiation of the Lancet Oncology/Commonwealth Secretariat Commission report on International Development Aid and Global Oncology was also launched. This report will take stock of the landscape of cancer research and cancer care for the 2.5 billion people that make up the Commonwealth and will inform policies to improve outcomes for patients with cancer within and beyond the Commonwealth.
At the conclusion of the programme, delegates agreed to:
Form a coalition to provide support and patronage to national cervical cancer plans to facilitate the progress towards elimination.
Raise awareness and mobilise action towards cervical cancer elimination goals by 2030 in their countries, in alignment with the World Health Organization’s Cervical Cancer Initiative.
Appeal to the international community and all stakeholders in commonwealth countries to allocate financial and human resources towards cervical cancer elimination so that elimination goals can be achieved by 2030.