Beirut – 20 November 2018
Annual cervical cancer deaths, caused by the human papillomavirus, have almost tripled in Lebanon since 2012. According to the latest data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), published in GLOBOCAN 2018, deaths due to cervical cancer jumped from 42 in 2012 to 125 in 2018. The data also shows that, cervical cancer cases have increased from 113 to 192 new cases per year since 2012, an increase of almost 70 percent.
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is almost entirely preventable. The HPV vaccine is an effective prevention tool, along with screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions. While Lebanon has not yet implemented any of these strategies on a nationwide scale, countries with robust prevention programs, such as Australia, have recently announced that they are on track to eliminate cervical cancer by 2028.
“It is alarming to see that despite the strong evidence to support HPV vaccination, which is proven to be highly effective in preventing cervical cancer, very few countries in the Middle East have rolled out the vaccine,” said Dr. Faysal El Kak, Vice President of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics and a senior lecturer at the American University of Beirut. “It is the responsibility of every health care provider and policy maker to commit to ending preventable deaths of women from cervical cancer.”
According to the GLOBOCAN 2018 data, If drastic measures are not taken to promote the vaccine and regular screenings in Lebanon, annual deaths due to the disease will increase by over 60% by 2040. “The tragedy is that we know how to prevent, detect and treat HPV-related diseases. A lack of political will, stigma and misinformation are all obstacles that must be overcome to save lives and reverse this epidemic. Because the number of annual cervical cancer cases in Lebanon is quite low, the country is uniquely positioned to be the first country in the region to eliminate cervical cancer if proper action is taken,” declared Jawad Marji, Officer of Sexual and Reproductive Health for LeMSIC, a coalition partner promoting a campaign to raise awareness about HPV in Lebanon.
Since 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended including the HPV vaccine in national immunization programs and considers it a “best buy.” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General, called earlier this year for a coordinated global effort to eradicate cervical cancer. This preventable disease is becoming an international priority.
About the MENA Coalition for HPV Elimination
The regional coalition for the elimination of HPV is an initiative of the Tunisian Center for Public Health that brings together several NGOs, researchers, clinicians and civil society activists from the Middle East and North Africa region. We aim to strengthen cooperation and partnership among national organizations involved in human rights and the health promotion of women, adolescents and vulnerable populations and to foster dialogue on HPV knowledge building. We also work to support the implementation of national strategies for the detection and management of cervical cancer, as well as the roll out of HPV vaccination as part of national immunization programs.