Media ReleaseCollaborate Against Cancer29 Mar 2021

Collaborative cervical cancer program established in the Western Pacific through landmark investment

The new program aims to deliver life-saving impacts in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu.

Photo Taken In Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby
A mother in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, sitting with her daughter. Photo Credit: Clyde Lovuru / EyeEm via Getty Images.

Today, the Minderoo Foundation together with NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Cervical Cancer Control (C4) announced a first-of-its-kind humanitarian and research effort to eliminate cervical cancer in the Western Pacific.

Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cancer Council NSW to establish the new Eliminate Cervical Cancer in the Western Pacific project.

Minderoo Foundation’s conditional grant of AU$8.1 million – when supported by additional funding and in-kind support from other partners – will provide almost $30 million to enable C4 and in-country partners to set Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu on a path to eliminating cervical cancer.

The project aligns to the World Health Organisation (WHO) strategy to eliminate cervical cancer worldwide by the end of the century, through a ‘triple-intervention’ approach, which sets out three simple targets to place all countries on the path toward elimination by 2030:

  • 90 per cent of girls are fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age
  • 70 per cent of women are screened using a high-performance HPV test by age 35 and again by 45
  • 90 per cent of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment

HPV, or human papillomavirus, is the cause of almost all cervical cancers. Many countries in the Western Pacific currently lack any cervical screening or HPV vaccination programs, and women do not have access to cancer treatment services. Papua New Guinea has one of the highest burdens of cervical cancer in the Western Pacific and globally, with death rates 12 times greater than those in Australia.

Caroline Henao, a cervical cancer survivor, patient advocate and Board Member of the Papua New Guinea Cancer Foundation, said the new initiative would deliver real change in public health and women’s lives in a high-need area.

“It would do so much in empowering women to have screening and to know that there is a way forward for them,” Ms Henao said. “It would also encourage them to know this disease isn’t a death sentence but very much curable if detected early.”

Mrs Nicola Forrest AO, Co-Founder of Minderoo Foundation, said the project was a great demonstration of Minderoo Foundation’s desire to arrest unfairness and to create opportunities to better the world.

“In Australia, our mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts, nieces and friends are fortunate to have access to cervical cancer vaccination, screening and treatment. But our neighbours in the Pacific nations are not so lucky. Cervical cancer is preventable and treatable, and it is unfair and unacceptable that women in remote or developing nations are dying of this disease – due simply to limited access to these services,” Mrs Forrest said.

Within C4, this initiative has been led by Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW; Professor Marion Saville, Executive Director, VCS Foundation; Professor Andrew Vallely, Kirby Institute UNSW Sydney and PNG Institute of Medical Research, Goroka; and Professor Deborah Bateson, Medical Director, Family Planning NSW.

Professor Canfell, Director of Cancer Research at Cancer Council NSW, a C4 partner, said, “This is a landmark initiative for the Western Pacific; over the long term the successful implementation of the elimination strategy, catalysed by Minderoo’s investment, is expected to save the lives of 150,000 women in Papua New Guinea alone.

“The project will put the WHO eliminate cervical cancer concept into practice, leading the world to show how the triple-intervention strategy of HPV vaccination, HPV-based screening and cancer treatment can be introduced into a priority region. It will create a sustainable framework for attracting additional partners and will act as a catalyst for cervical cancer elimination globally,” she said.

Dr Steve Burnell, CEO of Minderoo Foundation’s Collaborate Against Cancer initiative, said that collaboration between local partners, philanthropic organisations, industry, and governments was key to empowering Pacific nations to conquer cervical cancer.

“This project delivers immediate impact in saving lives and will also involve scaling-up sustainable, in-country services for cervical cancer in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, providing a path to elimination and a roadmap for other nations to follow,” Dr Burnell said.

Throughout the project, the partners will:

  • Work with health officials in PNG and Vanuatu, leveraging opportunities to build and prioritise existing health services.
  • Fast-track HPV vaccines for girls and cervical screening for women in PNG and Vanuatu and deliver training and equipment to build healthcare capacity.
  • The Australian research arm will conduct modelling and analysis to inform the most efficient and effective ways to implement and then expand the initiative.

The Eliminate Cervical Cancer in the Western Pacific project will be core to a range of active and emerging regional and local partnerships in the Western Pacific region, which will be essential to achieving cervical cancer elimination worldwide.

The initiative will join forces with the Asia Development Bank, diagnostic testing service provider Cepheid and the Frazer Family Foundation (set up by cervical cancer vaccine discoverer, Professor Ian Frazer), with in-kind contributions from the governments of PNG and Vanuatu, to obtain vaccines, deliver HPV testing and build health system capacity.

C4 and Minderoo are formally launching the Eliminate Cervical Cancer in the Western Pacific program at C4’s Preventing Cervical Cancer (PCC) conference on Friday 26th March, which is being held in partnership with the Asia-Oceania Research Organisation in Genital Infection and Neoplasia (AOGIN) and APEC.

Minderoo Foundation
by Minderoo Foundation

Established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest in 2001, we are a modern philanthropic organisation seeking to break down barriers, innovate and drive positive, lasting change. Minderoo Foundation is proudly Australian, with key initiatives spanning from ocean research and ending slavery, to collaboration in cancer and community projects.

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