PACNEWS – PACIFIC Islands Forum Leaders are expected to make a strong political statement on addressing cervical cancer on women and girls in the Pacific, when they meet in Port Moresby next month.
They will urge governments to take leadership and allocate adequate resources to address the increasing burden of cervical cancer in many Pacific Island Countries.
The substantial burden on the socio-economic development of many Forum members has prompted the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism (SSCR) of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat to recommend that it be one of the five priority issues for discussion in the September Summit of Pacific Leaders.
“A regional approach can make a difference and save lives of many women and girls by providing high level political momentum, reducing the price of vaccines through bulk purchase, accessing global funding, providing technical support for implementation of prevention programmes and conducting operational research and advocacy, says a report from the SSCR to the Forum Officials Committee (FOC) obtained by PACNEWS.
High incidences of cervical cancer have been found in Melanesian countries, recording one of the highest rates in the world, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
“Women are dying up to nine times the rate of women in Australia, (Australia 1.8 per 100,000 women; Fiji 17.9; PNG 23.9; Solomon Islands, 10.9 and Vanuatu 9.7), said the SSCR report.
Prevention programmes in the Pacific region are insufficient with only two of the 21 countries are territories surveyed have achieved cancer screening above 40 percent.
The report said another barrier is the availability of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which can be purchased at US$4.5 a dose.
“There are good examples in the region of countries addressing cervical cancer, for example Fiji, said the report.
Between 2003 and 2009, an average of 97 women a year in Fiji were being diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and an average of 78 women a year were dying from the disease, an alarming mortality to incidence ratio of 87 percent, and one of the highest in the world.
Fiji’s Ministry of Health has started a nationwide vaccination programme for school aged girls against HPV, to safeguard their health and their lives.
It will soon enter the second phase of the vaccination programme with funding assistance from the Australian Government.
“While the cervical cancer is preventable, it is a health issue that is impacting on women and girls, and if successful, this regional initiative would demonstrate in a very practical sense the benefits of a regional approach, argued the Specialist Sub-Committee on Regionalism.
The other four priority issues identified for the Forum Leaders are increased economic return from fisheries activity and maritime surveillance, climate change and disaster risk management, information and communication technology and West Papua.
The SSCR recommendations will go to the Forum Officials Committee next week for endorsement. FOC will meet in Suva next week.
Papua New Guinea will host the 46th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders meeting in Port Moresby from 7-11 September.