Urgent investment & action needed in Asia Pacific to meet WHO’s goal to reduce burden of breast & cervical cancers

Newly launched Asia Pacific Women’s Cancer Coalition (APAC WCC) calls for a greater commitment to address the gaps to support countries in achieving their national targets for cancer prevention and control

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New Delhi: Women in the Asia Pacific (APAC) face a disproportionately high risk of being impacted by breast and cervical cancer, compared to women globally. With strategic, targeted and sustainable intervention and action, emerging economies in APAC will be better positioned to tackle the growing burden of breast and cervical cancer, and accelerate their progress towards WHO targets for both diseases, according to a report released today by the APAC WCC.
The “Impact and opportunity: the case for investing in women’s cancers in Asia Pacific” report, supported by Roche and published by Economist Impact, examines the burden of breast and cervical cancer in six countries in the Asia Pacific region: India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, and identifies market-specific gaps and opportunities for improvement.
In Asia, breast cancer incidence is expected to rise by 20.9 per cent between 2020 and 2030 and mortality by 27.8 per cent. Cervical cancer incidence is expected to increase by 18.9 per cent and mortality by 24.9 percent in the same period. Women in lower- and middle-income countries also have poorer outcomes when it comes to breast and cervical cancer, due to low awareness, stigma, and lack of access to quality and timely screening, diagnosis, treatment, and care services.
“The report highlights discrepancies in the region with respect to national readiness to tackle women’s cancers. The development of the Women’s Cancer Coalition provides an opportunity to trial various approaches towards prevention and control that can inform both national and regional cancer control strategies,” said Dr Heather White, Executive Director, TogetHER for Health, a founding member of the APAC WCC.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously launched global initiatives, such as the Global Strategy for Cervical Cancer Elimination and Global Breast Cancer Initiative, to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer and sustained decrease in breast cancer mortality. On the back of the report, APAC WCC are now calling on countries in Asia Pacific to identify, create, and capitalise on opportunities for progress in order to meet the WHO’s targets.
Dr Somesh Kumar, Country Director, Jhpiego India & Senior Director of Technical Leadership and Innovations said: “Women’s cancer is a multi-dimensional challenge, both for health systems as well as for societies. With commitments from both the public and private sectors and the availability of new technologies, screening for women’s cancers can take place earlier and more equitably, lifting prevention efforts in the Asia region to the next level.”
Given the high socioeconomic burden of breast and cervical cancer on not only women but also their families and wider society, funding for breast cancer and cervical cancer presents a strong investment case for governments. With current funding in the six countries lower than the global average, there is room for more to be done. To understand more about the current gaps and opportunities, the report assessed five domains: policy and planning; prevention and screening; diagnostics and resource capacity; treatment and access; and awareness and education.
Some important elements of these domains were already in place to an extent across the six countries, such as relatively current National Cancer Control Plans (NCCPs), the implementation of HPV vaccination programs and awareness and education programs. However, the public sectors lacked critical diagnostic tools for breast and cervical cancer, such as mammography, biopsy, next generation sequencing, CT scanning and genetic testing. Also, challenges in addressing cancer care access disparities in rural and poorer communities.
“The critical health risks confronting women in the APAC region are undeniable. As part of the overall commitment to addressing the issue, the Asia-Pacific’s Women’s Cancer Coalition has initiated a focused report, delineating clear paths to tackle breast and cervical cancer,” said Ahmed Elhusseiny, Area Head, Roche Pharmaceuticals Asia Pacific.
“The findings show that countries must prioritise women’s health by strengthening political will, establishing robust plans and measures, enhancing screening and prevention efforts, and tailoring approaches to improve equitable access. It will also be crucial to work together to build capacity and funding as well as raise awareness as part of a comprehensive and patient-centric approach, to achieve the WHO’s targets for breast cancer and the elimination of cervical cancer.”
To help countries reverse the trend and achieve the WHO cervical cancer and breast cancer targets, the report called for a number of actions, including:
● Enhance performance tracking by building immunisation, screening and patient outcome registries for cervical and breast cancer;
● Accelerate rollout of national immunisation programs for HPV and universal cancer screening to provide more effective prevention;