Remarks by Ambassador Lisa Peterson: International Breast & Cervical Cancer Awareness Month Launch

Minister for Health
Senior Government Officials

It is an honor to be with you today to mark the launch of Breast and Cervical Cancer Awareness Month.  I trust you are familiar with the U.S. Government’s work in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but you may be less aware that this work has expanded to include cervical cancer.  Despite the tremendous gains that Eswatini has made in testing and treating HIV, a high number of women with HIV are still lost to cervical cancer every year. Eswatini actually has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world.  Women who are HIV-positive are five times more likely to develop invasive cervical cancer.  Without early diagnosis and treatment, 62% of HIV positive women with cervical cancer who are active on anti-retroviral therapy would be expected to die from it. Imagine how crushing it would be to know that your best friend, sister, or wife was on the path to a long life-span thanks to anti-retroviral therapy, only to have that life shortened by cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer can be prevented through screening and early detection and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions.  The US Government, through the PEPFAR/Eswatini program has been supporting the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini on cervical cancer screening and treatment of precancerous lesions for women living with HIV since 2018. The screening and treatment programs will save many lives by enabling early detection of lesions and preventing infections from spreading to cancer. The program in Eswatini has accelerated and the number of HIV positive women aged 25-49 who have been screened for cervical cancer increased from 1,090 per month to 5,968 per month between April and August this year. The number of health facilities providing screening for pre-cancerous lesions has also increased from 58 to 130 in the same time period. The Ministry of Health and PEPFAR continue to scale up services and we anticipate that there will soon be 203 health facilities providing screening and pre-cancerous lesion treatment services.  Over the coming year, we will apply more than one million dollars to train and equip facilities to support the screening and treatment program.

The U.S. launched a global cervical cancer screening and treatment program in May 2018, and it aims to reduce new cervical cancer cases by 95 per cent among HIV- positive women in Eswatini and other high burden African countries. An innovative public-private partnership to achive these goals was announced in September of 2019 and includes the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the George W. Bush Institute (Bush Institute), the Joint United Nations Program  on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the pharmaceutical company Merck.

Last week, in a meeting held on the margins of the 2019 United Nations General Assembly, former President George W. Bush, Mrs. Laura Bush and U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Deborah Birx met with His Majesty King Mswati III and other African heads of state to discuss the Go Further partnership. In the words of Ambassador Birx, “By leveraging the robust health care delivery platforms in Africa strengthened through over $85 billion in total U.S. government global HIV/AIDS investments, we will protect millions of HIV-positive mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandmothers who are alive and thriving with HIV treatment from the threat of cervical cancer.”

By simultaneously bolstering Eswatini’s ability to diagnose and treat pre-cancerous lesions within the country, we hope to avoid late diagnosis of cervical cancer.  Treatment at the late stage is costly and is often simply too late. The U.S. government remains committed to supporting the GKoE’s efforts to end cervical cancer.

Siyabonga.