New weapons against cancer
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Sharjah: Sharjah Declaration 3.0, a new document outlining the roadmap for the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health concern, was unveiled during the recent Cervical Cancer Forum (CCF).

The declaration emphasises the importance of collaboration and partnerships between governments, healthcare providers, and civil society organisations, as well as the need for increased investment in cervical cancer prevention, screening, and treatment programmes.

Advocacy hub

The declaration — endorsed by representatives of governments, academia, international organisations, and advocates who pledged their commitment to improving access to vaccines, screenings, treatment, and palliative care for human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer in the Arab region — aims to eliminate cervical cancer and HPV by establishing a regional hub for cervical cancer elimination advocacy in the Eastern Mediterranean and Arab Region (EMRO). Strategies and monitoring

The signatories also committed to advocating for the development and implementation of regional and national cervical cancer strategies, continuing monitoring efforts by the achievement of the establishment of the Monitoring framework on cervical cancer across six countries in the EMRO Region as per the recommendation of Sharjah declaration 2.0, establishing cooperative capacity building efforts to expand countries’ and organisations’ cervical cancer control activities, collaborating with partners on better use of evidence-based decision making, and identifying and addressing current inequities with regard to HPV vaccine and cervical cancer detection and treatment.

The Sharjah Declaration 3.0 builds on the progress made since the first edition in 2019 and is part of the global commitment to implement the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health 2016-2030 and the ICPD@25 Nairobi commitments.

By empowering women through self-awareness, education, and confidence to initiate screening, investing in cervical cancer elimination, and acting on this declaration in solidarity and coordination between governments, national and international organisations, and all other stakeholders, the Eastern Mediterranean and Arab region could be the first in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.

Cancer forum

The 3rd CCF saw the participation of 2,820 attendees and 31 speakers who took part in eight intense sessions under two distinct themes, reinforcing the objective of eliminating cervical cancer as a public health concern.

The two-day virtual forum, organised by Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) and sponsored by MSD, was attended by a diverse group of participants from across the globe, including policy makers, healthcare professionals, researchers, and representatives from international organisations such as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

National plan

Addressing the attendees, Abdul Rahman Al Owais, UAE Minister of Health and Prevention, said: "The UAE's commitment to the highest standards in healthcare, scientific research and innovative policies have positioned us as a regional and international leader in the fight against HPV and cervical cancer."

He added: "Our partnership with key stakeholders and the Friends of Cancer Patients has enabled us to launch the National Cancer Control Plan and incorporate the HPV vaccine into our national vaccination programme, achieving an 82 per cent coverage rate for two doses. Together, we strive to shape the future of healthcare and improve the health and well-being of our community members."

Sawson Jaafar, Chairperson of Friends of Cancer Patients (FOCP) Board of Directors, said: "We at FOCP are honoured to host the third Cervical Cancer Forum 2023, in partnership with the UNFPA and the participation of local, regional, and international organisations. Our collective goal is to eliminate cervical cancer, and we believe that through the progress we have made, the development of an action plan, and the commitment to our goals, we can move closer to relieving the world of this debilitating condition."

Ashraf Mallak, Managing Director, MSD GCC, said: “The World Health Organisation’s call for the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem is testament to the significant threat that this cancer poses to women around the world."

She added: "For over 20 years, MSD has been committed to reducing the spread of cervical cancer and its impact on lives around the world. Our company shares the vision of a world free of HPV-related diseases and cancers and will continue to work together with others to make the goal of eliminating cervical cancer a reality. We are honoured to continue our collaboration with FOCP and the UNFPA in the 3rd CCF. The world truly is at a turning point in the road towards eliminating cervical cancer, and it is important that we work together and act now.”

Overcoming barriers

Speaking at the keynote session titled ‘Update on Regional Cervical Cancer Elimination Strategy’, Dr Lamia Mohmoud, Regional Adviser, Noncommunicable Diseases Prevention (NCP) (WHO-EMRO), said: “The regional cervical cancer elimination strategy, launched on January 11, 2023, was developed through a comprehensive and inclusive process, starting with the regional survey in 2022 to understand the bottlenecks for implementing the global strategy. The survey engaged with 20 out of 22 member states in the region to gather information on the ground and looked into three streams of work proposed in the global strategy: HPV vaccination, HPV screening, and cervical cancer treatment.”

She added that the survey found that only three countries had HPV vaccination programmes in place and eight countries had plans to implement the programme. “The biggest barriers for HPV vaccination were stigma around HPV and safety concerns, and cost of the programme was mainly a concern for middle and low-income countries. Some countries also mentioned the lack of political will as a barrier. The survey found that most countries considered it possible to achieve 90 per cent HPV vaccination coverage in 15-year-olds. The survey also found that the lack of infrastructure was a barrier for implementing HPV screening programmes."

Dr Hala Youssuf, Sexual and Reproductive Health Adviser, said: “The Sharjah Forums declarations offer commitment to advocacy, cooperation, data utilisation and endorsement of a monitoring framework."

"Today, UNFPA-ASRO and FOCP renew their full commitment to cervical cancer elimination actions in the region. We value the countries’ support in gathering data and information that enable us to better monitor how cervical cancer prevention strategies and roadmaps are progressing.

She added: "At our first Sharjah Cervical Cancer forum four years ago (2019), UNFPA-ASRO with its partner (FoCP) started a journey to eliminate Cervical Cancer from the region. Four years on, the UNFPA-ASRO remains very much on board with our vision. We can maintain together the momentum in our Cervical Cancer elimination efforts as we respond to Sharjah declarations commitments."