Across the globe, November 17 marks the WHO’s launch of the global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer. For us, this day represents a celebration of the progress we’ve made right here in our province and a promise of what’s to come.
We come together, distanced but dedicated in British Columbia, Canada – one of 194 countries that responded to the WHO’s call to action. We work together: a physician/researcher who has dedicated their career to improving HPV screening and vaccine uptake, and the leader of the only non-profit dedicated to advancing the full spectrum of women’s health in Canada.
The elimination of cervical cancer is in our sight in Canada.
In June 2019, we celebrated a $10 million investment from the Government of Canada through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research towards national cervical cancer research. We were proud to stand alongside exceptional leaders, clinicians, and scientists from the Women’s Health Research Institute, the BC Elimination of Cervical Cancer Task Force, and the Gynecological Cancer Initiative.
Today, we reflect on how fortunate we are to have scientists and researchers in our province who understand that to eliminate cervical cancer, we need to prioritize women and girls. This must be done in concert with providing modern-day sexual health education and removing stigma and barriers around vaccinations and screening.
As Dr. Bonnie Henry, BC’s Provincial Health Officer notes: ‘I am so proud that in British Columbia we have had our clinicians and researchers at the forefront of this work, dedicated to addressing the pressing scientific questions, both here and globally, to enable us to accelerate the elimination of this entirely preventable cancer.’ Indeed, we are also fortunate that all of our researchers work across geographies, expanding reach and allowing for shared innovation from work in lower-income countries.
We are on the precipice of incredible healthcare innovation. With vaccination, early detection, and effective management, cervical cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer.
And yet, in 2017, approximately 1,550 Canadian women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and an estimated 400 died from it. Statistics on cervical cancer show that cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife and is most frequently found in women aged 35 to 59. Many of these women are at the centre of their families, communities, and professional lives. Their illnesses and deaths impact well beyond just themselves.
We also know that immigrants and Indigenous women are at higher risk due to access barriers, limited public health education outreach, and lack of culturally-safe and client-centred screening programs.
The WHO writes, “for the first time ever, the world has committed to eliminate a cancer.”
It is impossible not to get excited about what that means for women’s healthcare, for cancer research, and the lives of women worldwide.
The enthusiasm we’ve witnessed from researchers across the globe – especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic – is a testament to the unwavering commitment that medical research requires
The November 17 launch marks an opportunity for us all to celebrate the research happening right here in our province; research that will have global impacts. What we learn about vaccines, screening, and treatment will provide invaluable learnings for treating other cancers and diseases.
We are heartened by the deepened federal commitment in Canada and the ongoing support from BC Women’s Health Foundation donors. We hope everyone will join us in this celebration and continue to invest in cervical cancer research to ensure our country remains a leader in the space.
Dr. Gina Ogilvie is a Senior Advisor and Assistant Director of the Women’s Health Research Institute.
Genesa Greening is the President + CEO of the BC Women’s Health Foundation.
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