Director-General's Office

A world free of cervical cancer

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

United Nations General Assembly, New York, USA
24 September 2018

Excellencies, first ladies, ministers Your Royal Highness Princess Dina, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great honour to be here, and I’d like to especially thank His Excellency President Edgar Lungu for his leadership on this issue. Thanks also to Australia, Brazil and Thailand for co-sponsoring this important event.

The fact that we have so many first ladies here and His Excellency the President of Zambia is a testament to the momentum that is gathering around the call to eliminate cervical cancer.

Thank you all for your support for the call to action that I made earlier this year. We cannot eliminate cervical cancer without commitment at the highest levels – thank you for demonstrating that commitment today.

You’ve heard about the challenge countries face;

You’ve heard about the progress we have made in Zambia, Niger, Nigeria and Thailand;

And you’ve heard from Australia how with the right commitment, eliminating cervical cancer can become a reality and not merely an aspiration.

As you heard me say in the video earlier, we have all the tools we need to consign cervical cancer to the history books.

Vaccination. Screening. Treatment. Palliative care.

The challenge is to scale-up the use of those tools everywhere around the world.

It is simply no longer acceptable that any woman should die from a disease that is completely preventable and treatable.

Commitment is vital, but commitment alone is not enough.

HPV vaccines are still too expensive for many low- and middle-income countries;

HPV screening is unavailable or unaffordable for too many women;

And treatment and palliative care are out of reach for many of those who suffer with the advanced stages of cervical cancer.

We can only address these challenges by working together.

Progress depends on strengthening health systems, so we have the right people, with the right skills, in the right places.

It depends on making sure we have sufficient resources.

And it depends on introducing the right technologies.

We need to invest in research and development to find new ways of preventing and diagnosing cervical cancer, and new technologies to make the tools we have more effective and affordable.

And to make progress, we must be able to measure progress. We need much stronger health information systems that show us who is being left behind, and why.

Let me leave you with three specific actions we can take to make this dream a reality.

First, every country must introduce and scale up HPV vaccination to achieve high coverage among girls by 15 years of age.

Second, every country must introduce and scale-up HPV screening for women between 30 and 49 years old, and ensure appropriate treatment and follow-up.

Third, every country must increase access to diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer and ensure palliative care.

The best way to achieve all these objectives is to ensure vaccination, screening, treatment and palliative care are included in benefit packages as part of universal health coverage.

Cervical cancer is not the only threat that women and girls face. Universal health coverage is the best way to ensure all women and girls have their health needs met, without being exposed to financial hardship.

Ultimately, ending cervical cancer is a political choice that we urge Presidents and Prime-Ministers to make.

The Political Declaration that we will make at this week’s High-Level meeting on noncommunicable diseases commits Heads of State and Government to be personally involved in taking these actions.

But you are not alone on this journey. Together with all our partners, WHO will walk with you every step of the way. You can count on us for the world class evidence-based guidelines and technical know-how you need to translate plans into results.

Let me finish with a story.

Earlier this year, Tanzania began a national HPV vaccination campaign. Among the line of girls waiting for her shot at a clinic in Dar-es-Salam was a 14-year-old called Modesta.

My WHO colleagues interviewed her. This is what she said:

“I’m hoping to become a health minister one day. And when I do, I will make sure that girls of my age get vaccinated against HPV. We are the young and future generation, and HPV vaccine can help us avoid getting sick.”

Ladies and gentlemen, that is what we’re working for. God bless Modesta. We pray for her so she becomes what she wants.

It’s about more than just preventing disease. It’s about empowering girls and women to live healthy and productive lives, and the opportunities it creates for them to become whatever they want – even health ministers, Presidents, Prime Ministers!

Thank you once again for your commitment. Together, we can change the course of history.

Thank you so much.