A future free from cervical cancer

With vaccination, screening and treatment, cervical cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable. This cancer, however, continues to kill more than 340,000 women and people with a cervix every year.

We know how to end cervical cancer,

but for some women, barriers exist that prevent them from ever being screened. This video takes us from the Peruvian Amazon to Ceredigion, Wales, to see how HPV self-collection empowers women to protect themselves against cervical cancer.

In  Perú, more women die from cervical cancer than any other cancer type, and small children are sometimes left behind, with dire consequences to the family and community. But there is hope. Collaboration to bring HPV self-collection to even the most remote villages of the world is empowering women to take a stand against this disease.

In the vast expanse of the Perúvian Amazon, Rosana Maldonado, a mother and yuca farmer, begins her journey. Steering her tiny boat toward Comunidad El Salvador, she's fueled by the primary purpose of participating in a new approach to screening for an infection that can cause cervical cancer.

Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is the cause of most cases of cervical cancer, which kills more women than any other cancer type in Perú. Change is desperately needed.

Rosana's story of courage and hope is symbolic of the dozens of women who gathered at the village 'tambo' – a traditional Incan gathering place. Here, in this community of 450 residents living without running water or electricity, midwives travelled hours by boat to teach women how to collect their vaginal samples for HPV testing.

Rosana and other women embrace this new method that allows them to collect their own sample with a simple cotton swab. Healthcare professionals emphasise its simplicity and privacy in overcoming common barriers that include access, fear, history of trauma and social stigma. 

More than 80% of women in this pilot program have preferred this self-collection method over traditional screening procedures. It's a testament to the program's design, focusing not just on screening but also on vital HPV vaccinations for young girls and boys – the first step in early prevention.

This initiative goes beyond a simple medical intervention. It's a shift towards empowerment, where women can take charge of their health. The success of Rosana and her community in embracing and spreading the word about this innovative collection method for HPV screening provides hope for Perú, where six women die from cervical cancer every day.

Rosana is one of 300,000 Perúvian women to be tested through a collaborative effort between the Perúvian Ministry of Health, government organisations, patient advocates and other groups, including Roche, with HPV self-collection as the primary strategy to expand access. 

While about 15 percent of the women have tested positive for HPV, by the end of 2023 more than 4 percent were expected to have tested positive for high-risk HPV infection that is most likely to lead to cervical cancer, according to the Ministry of Health. These mothers, sisters, partners and friends now have the information they need to stop cervical cancer from ever developing. 

As part of the broader initiative to eliminate cervical cancer, collaborations have been crucial. Their united effort has not only enabled the training of thousands of Perúvian health workers but also transformed the way cervical cancer is prevented and treated. This collaboration represents a potential model for other countries grappling with similar healthcare challenges, underscoring the importance of accessibility, education and empowerment in disease prevention.

The impact is clear and resonant. For women like Rosana, who navigate not just the physical rivers of the Amazon but the broader currents of healthcare accessibility and awareness, this program isn't just about preventing disease. It represents a stronger future for their families and a lasting change in their communities.

In this journey to end cervical cancer, whether it's a woman learning to self-collect or a health worker travelling miles to educate, each step weaves a larger narrative of hope and resilience. It's a story unfolding across the remote villages of Perú, carrying a message that echoes worldwide: when women are empowered to take control of their health, the foundation of a community becomes unshakably strong.

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