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Global Health: The Global Burden of Cervical Cancer

Lunsj-seminar i Stortinget, 17. mars 2014

Statssekretær Brattskars innledning på et seminar om ikke-smittsomme sykdommer 17. mars 2014.

Ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, let me express my appreciation for this opportunity to meet members of the Storting and many others on global health issues. Advancing global health and contributing to ensuring healthy lives for all is a major priority for the Government.   

The Millennium Development Goals will continue to guide our efforts. And we are determined to achieve results in the areas that matter the most.

Let me continue by welcoming Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance, Helen Evans. Norway is one of the strongest supporters of GAVI. Through GAVI’s work with vaccines, we have managed to save some 6 million lives since the year 2000. This has been a key factor in the progress that has been made towards reaching MDG 4 on reducing child mortality by two thirds. I would also like to highlight GAVI as an example of how we can use public-private partnerships and innovative financing in global health. This will be particularly important in order to maintain funding in the current challenging economic climate.

The MDGs have proven to be an excellent guiding star in the global development effort. Since their conception, we have seen tremendous progress in development. Norway has been deeply engaged in this work and the basis of all our development efforts is the fight against poverty. Eradicating extreme poverty is now within reach and must be on the top of our agenda looking beyond 2015. There are certain key factors that are vital for people to be able to lift themselves out of poverty, and health is one essential factor. This is no less true for Norway. Our success today is in large part due to free access to education and universal health coverage for our entire population. We believe that everyone should have the same opportunities as we do to develop their potential to the fullest.

The MDGs have had a tremendous mobilizing capacity. They are clear, easy to understand and easy to measure. In terms of branding, the MDGs are comparable to successful PR campaigns of major private companies.  They have made development goals known to the general public, making it easier for people to keep track of progress – or lack of progress – and to hold governments accountable.

Beyond 2015, we will build on the success of the MDGs to create an even stronger framework for development in the 21st century. The Norwegian position is clear: we support a single set of post-2015 goals aimed at poverty eradication and sustainable development. The unfinished work of the MDG agenda must remain a priority.

However, the new development agenda will be different both in scope and relevance. It will be universal and will have to reflect the major developments we have seen in the last 15 years. Today an increasing share of the burden of disease comes from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like cancer, diabetes and cardiac disease. This must also be reflected in the post-2015 agenda.

The NCDs are truly universal: they hit both rich and poor. This leaves poor countries with a formidable challenge; they have to address both the unfinished MDG agenda and the increasing problem of NCDs at the same time.

Aid alone cannot solve these challenges. It is each government’s responsibility to prioritize strengthening health systems and providing universal health coverage.

At the same time, we should not forget that health challenges cannot be met through health systems alone. A broader approach is needed. As we know from Norway, the key to fighting NCDs is not treatment, but prevention. We must promote healthy lifestyles to prevent the development of NCDs, both at home and abroad.

GAVI’s efforts are largely related to the MDGs, while the Norwegian Cancer Society represents the important work that is being done to prevent and fight NCDs. Nevertheless, I am confident that today’s speakers will illustrate how immunization and NCD prevention go hand in hand.

For example, a major component of the GAVI programme has been the scale-up of vaccination against Hepatitis B, a major cause of liver cancer. It is estimated that GAVI through this vaccine alone has contributed to saving more than 3,5 million lives.

We also know that many AIDS patients are prone to a particular form of cancer, Kaposi’s sarcoma. Another example of a cancer with an infectious origin is cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer is caused by infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). Vaccination can therefore play an important part in preventing this form of cancer and we are pleased to see a growing number of countries lining up to receive GAVI support for the HPV vaccine.

This is an important vaccine for many reasons: first and foremost because it will prevent many women from developing cervical cancer. This is important for all women, but maybe even more so for women in poorer countries without adequate screening systems to detect cancers in time – and then the necessary treatment to cure them.

But beyond preventing cervical cancer, vaccination against HPV constitutes the first health service aimed directly at girls and young women. This may also represent a great opportunity to provide these women with information and guidance about their sexual and reproductive rights.

Norway is now developing a cross-sectorial approach linking education and health, with a particular focus on girls and young women. HPV vaccination could be an important element of this approach. We look forward to working with you to make the administration of the vaccine an entry point for other health services that may benefit adolescent girls, including information about contraception, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  

A rapid uptake of the HPV vaccine in GAVI countries in the years ahead will contribute to a major push both for women’s health and for health equity. We are very pleased to see that over 20 GAVI countries now have been approved for introducing the HPV vaccine and look forward to new countries following suit. This is the first time in history that a new vaccine is being made available in developing countries at the same time it is introduced in high income countries.

These examples clearly illustrate why immunization and NCD prevention as a combined effort will be important for reaching the goal of healthy lives for all.

I look forward to hearing your views and to a further dialogue with you on these issues.  

Thank you.