The Challenges of Protecting Against HPV in LMICs

Getting to zero cervical cancer in many low- and middle-income countries requires overcoming barriers

Three girls looking at the camera

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a public health issue across the world and is directly linked to most cases of cervical cancer.  Although cervical cancer is a significant global health issue affecting women everywhere, with approximately 600,000 new cases and 340,000 deaths annually,  90% of deaths from this preventable disease occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Many young girls and their families in low-resource settings lack access to the HPV vaccine, HPV prevention efforts, and HPV educational resources.  The Global HPV Consortium aims to close these gaps and boost lagging HPV prevention efforts. Along with the aligning with the World Health Organization (WHO)’s goal to vaccinate 90 percent of all eligible girls against HPV by 2030, the Consortium is also working to integrate secondary prevention, which consists of screening and treatment of precancerous lesions, and which are also part of the WHO 2030 goals.

The six questions below explain why HPV prevention matters and why focusing on LMIC’s is critical to the success of the Global HPV Consortium.

What is HPV, and why is prevention, screening, and treatment crucial for young women, especially in low- and middle-income countries?

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a common virus spread by skin-to-skin contact that can lead to cervical cancer and other health issues. Young women in low- and middle-income countries face higher risks of death from cervical cancer due to limited access to prevention resources such as vaccines during the recommended ages of 9-14 and healthcare resources for screening and treatment for cervical cancer.

How can HPV vaccines benefit young women?

HPV vaccines are proven effective at preventing cervical cancer. By vaccinating girls before they’re exposed to the virus, the lifetime risk of developing cervical cancer is significantly reduced. Despite being available for more than 17 years and being highly safe and effective, global vaccine coverage of eligible girls stands at a feeble 21%.

How can the Global HPV Consortium help young women and girls in low- and middle-income countries overcome barriers?

The Global HPV Consortium will play a vital role by raising awareness, advocating for policy changes, and implementing programs to ensure access to HPV vaccines, screenings, and education. Through organizational partnerships, the consortium will address the challenges that persist for young women, girls and families within communities in low- and-middle-income countries, working with on-the-ground implementers to address questions and raise awareness with locally developed messaging of the fact that cervical cancer can be prevented and treated.

What are the barriers that young women and girls in low- and middle-income countries face regarding HPV prevention and care?

There are several barriers unique to young women and girls in low- and middle-income countries. Some are related to limited access (such as school-based immunization that doesn’t reach girls who are out of school), lack of awareness (discussing the correlation between HPV and cervical cancer can be limited by cultural norms), and healthcare infrastructure.

Some of these barriers persist due to:

  • Limited access and funds: Health facilities, vaccines, and screenings may be inaccessible, costly or far from home.
  • Lack of awareness: Many young women, girls and their families might not understand the importance of HPV, vaccines, and early detection or have limited access to socially-acceptable messaging.
  • Cultural norms: Societal norms can limit discussions around sexual health and preventive care.
  • Health infrastructure: Under-resourced healthcare systems can lead to inability to offer vaccines, inadequate equipment for testing or treatment in facilities, and health worker shortages.
Why is the Global HPV Consortium committed to focusing on an integrated approach that involves vaccinations, screening, and treatment to prevent HPV and eliminate cervical cancer?

The complex nature of HPV communication, the challenges of talking about prevention of diseases that will come years later, and the long-term effects HPV has on public health and society, make it critical to partner with local organizations that help focus on the WHO goals of prevention, screening and treatment. Addressing diverse factors such as socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and education requires expertise and engagement from various public and private sectors, including healthcare, education, social services, and public policy. This integrated approach is a best practice for maximizing prevention and elimination of cervical cancer.

How does the Global HPV Consortium plan to contribute to the development of cost-effective strategies for HPV prevention and control?

Through a cross-sectoral collaborative approach and in working with other multi-lateral organizations, the Consortium will foster the development of evidence-based strategies that are not only effective but also tailored to the specific needs of different regions and communities. This will involve developing sustainable financial support plus political will and engagement in this effort.  The benefits of prevention are clear:  young women who continue to support their families and communities contribute to the economy and development. According to the World Health Organization Cervical Cancer Initiative, for every dollar invested in HPV prevention, an estimated $3.20 will be returned to the economy by 2050. That figure rises to $26.00 for economic and social benefits.


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