Honorable Minister of Health, Senator Lizzie Nkosi
Deputy Director of Clinical Services, Dr Velephi Okello
Manzini Principal Health Administrator, Make Thoko Ngubane
Lubombo Principal Health Administrator, Ms Happy Tsabedze
National Cancer Control Program Manager, Ms Xolisile Dlamini
Program Director, Dr Mbuso Dlamini
Georgetown University Country Representative, Dr Samson Haumba
All protocol observed
It is my great honor to join you this morning for this important handover event which calls attention to cervical cancer, a critical health need among women, and the action we are collectively taking to prevent its consequences.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in women in sub-Saharan Africa with more than 110,000 new cases annually. In Eswatini, cervical cancer accounts for more than half of all cancers among women. It also disproportionately affects women living with HIV who are up to six times more likely to develop precancerous lesions than those without HIV.
As part of the global effort to decrease morbidity and mortality among persons living with HIV, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, in collaboration with the George W. Bush Institute, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Merck, and Roche, are investing financial and technical resources to improve access to quality screening and treatment services through the “Go Further” initiative. Go Further aims to screen all women living with HIV between the ages of 25 and 49 for cervical cancer, and to treat pre-invasive cervical lesions to prevent progression to cervical cancer. With screening and early treatment, cervical cancer is almost completely preventable.
Over the past 16 years, the United States Government has invested, through PEPFAR, more than 8.4 billion Emalangeni in Eswatini to develop and expand HIV and TB programs and strengthen the health system. In Eswatini alone, PEPFAR has contributed more than $7.7 million (or 110 million Emalangeni) in cervical cancer screening and treatment efforts since 2019. This investment has resulted in the initial screening of approximately 70,000 or 80% all eligible women living with HIV in Eswatini over the past two years. Additionally, more than 80% of women found with precancerous lesions were provided with life-saving treatment. These are remarkable milestones, particularly given that they were accomplished as part of a new initiative even amidst disruptions due to COVID and civil unrest.
Today, the US Government, through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its implementing partner Georgetown University, is handing over to the Ministry of Health equipment valued at more than $520,000, or 7.5M Emalangheni, to further these efforts by expanding access to detection and treatment of cervical abnormalities. This equipment provides the opportunity to further institutionalize the routine screening necessary to detect lesions early. And, critically important, facilitates decentralized treatment of identified lesions enabling a same day screen and treat approach. While this equipment is necessary, it is not sufficient to address the burden of cervical cancer in the country. We commend the Ministry of Health for its leadership, and encourage the Government to expand investments in human resources and quality assurance mechanisms to continue to provide the highest level of care for Emaswati.
Just as we can prevent women from suffering from devastating consequences of untreated cervical lesions, we can also prevent COVID-19. The U.S. has donated hundreds of thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the spread of the virus. Many doses are currently unused, and we urge Emaswati to get vaccinated! It’s free, it’s safe, and it’s available right now. Please don’t delay in making sure you, your friends, and your loved ones are protected from the worst effects of COVID-19.
We are proud to invest in the future of Emaswati through our health sector investments, and by the same token we must also work together to help Eswatini heal from the recent civil unrest and political instability. We welcomed the November 2 statement by the Chair of the SADC Organ Troika, President Cyril Ramaphosa, that deliberations with His Majesty King Mswati III had resolved that Eswatini will begin a process to prepare for national dialogue. We hope that preparations will be in full collaboration with civil society. Inclusive, peaceful, and constructive dialogue on issues of concern to emaSwati will help this country heal and build back better.
The United States is proud to work collaboratively with the Ministry of Health to fight and defeat cervical cancer, HIV, COVID-19, and other health threats. Thank you to our implementing partners, health practitioners, and to everyone in this room who works tirelessly to advocate for, treat, and prevent disease. You have my deep respect and gratitude and you are a shining example of compassion and strength. With your help I am confident that we can build an Eswatini that is more secure against the threat of infectious, preventable disease, and safer for the future.