Every two minutes, somewhere in the world, a woman somewhere in the world dies of cervical cancer. It is the number one killer disease for women. It is an infection of the womb (cervix) and is not easy to find until it gets worse, but it can be cured if diagnosed early and treated.
In the UK, Europe and US, it is one of the most feared illnesses, but the worst equipped to prevent, diagnose and treat it are the world’s poorest countries. Western countries have a vaccine against the humanpapilloma virus (HPV) which triggers the cancer. Schoolgirls are given jabs routinely and, if it works as well as hoped for, many women will be spared the cancer when they get older. But for women in developing countries, where 88per cent of the 274,000 yearly cervical cancer death toll happen, there is no such hope. In Africa, about 79,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in and 61,000 die of the disease there. In Ghana, it is the leading cause of death among women, according to studies by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are efforts to try to roll out the vaccine in parts of Africa, but it will be expensive and difficult. Vaccinating teenagers is not as straightforward as vaccinating babies, because teenage girls need several jabs. Until they get vaccines, women in poor countries have more chance of surviving cervical cancer if their cancers were found early on. Rich countries have had routine screening programmes in place for years, but as with the vaccines, they need expensive equipment and trained lab technicians. But the European Union has recently approved a new test developed to be easy to use in hot countries with no running water or electricity. Now it can carry a health and safety CE kite mark, the test made by Netherlands-based QIAGEN, offers fresh hope. In the space of a few hours, it can detect the DNA of the cancer-causing virus, which means a woman who may have walked miles to a clinic, can wait there for her result and possibly treatment. . The CE marking means it can now be rolled out in Africa and Asia. QIAGEN will now also try to get World Health Organisation approval too, so that UN agencies can buy and use it. Speaking at the International Papillomavirus Conference in Montreal, Canada yesterday, QIAGEN’s chief exec, Peer Schatz said: “The CE marking of our careHPV Test now allows us to prepare for the distribution in low-resource settings of developing regions – such as India and countries in Africa – that recognize the CE mark.”