Good morning. I am delighted to be here as we mark an important milestone for the health of women in Botswana, and as we celebrate a successful six year partnership in cervical cancer prevention between the governments of Botswana and the United States, in collaboration with the Botswana-University of Pennsylvania Partnership.
Cervical cancer, which is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), is the leading cause of cancer mortality among women in Botswana. The HIV epidemic is a major factor driving this high rate of cervical cancer. The risk for developing cervical cancer in women infected with HIV is three- to six–fold higher compared to HIV negative women. This is especially problematic in Botswana where women and girls are disproportionately affected by HIV.
Because of the link between cervical cancer and HIV, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, known as PEPFAR and our largest HIV program, supports the Ministry of Health in preventing these dual epidemics among women. Preventing HIV means preventing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is preventable. The U.S. government has been a proud partner of the Ministry of Health supporting dual approaches to preventing cervical cancer, through the See and Treat Project and the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine.
Our collaboration with the Ministry of Health began in 2009 with the See and Treat pilot project aimed at improving cervical cancer screening and expanding access to treatment for Batswana women. In 2012 Botswana was chosen to be a part of a major international program, the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative, a unique collaborative effort between PEPFAR, the George W. Bush Foundation, UNAIDS, and Susan G. Koman for the Cure. The Ministry of Health received a five year, three million dollar grant from PEPFAR for the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative to scale up See and Treat services.
See and Treat programs in Botswana operate in six districts staffed by Ministry employees. Since the program inception’s in 2012, more than 10,000 women have been screened and more than 3,000 women treated for cervical cancer — lives have been saved.
The introduction of the HPV vaccination program began with a study in 2011 to examine the acceptability of the HPV vaccine among Batswana’s adolescent girls. This was expanded to large scale vaccination demonstration projects in 2013 and 2014. These proved the vaccine was highly acceptable by adolescent girls, and the results led to a successful rollout of a national vaccination campaign in February 2015 – one of the first in Africa. This nationwide campaign reached 98% coverage of the targeted age group – a major achievement – and I am optimistic next week’s second dose administration will be as successful.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these successes that have made Botswana a leader in cervical cancer prevention in Africa have not gone unnoticed. Botswana’s successes will be highlighted on September 22 at an international event at the President George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas, Texas. This event will even screen film footage taken right here at this facility. Let me congratulate all who have contributed to this highly successful national program!
I would like to especially congratulate two remarkable women I have come to know as our Cervical Cancer Prevention Champions. I would like to acknowledge Dr. Doreen Ramogola Masire, the U PENN Country Director, and Shenaaz El-Halabi, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health, for their strong leadership and support of this exemplary Cervical Cancer Program.
The scale-up of cervical cancer prevention services in Botswana has been a great success, and the U.S. Government is pleased to be a partner in this effort and a part of today’s See and Treat launch. The U.S. Government’s support will continue through a new accomplished partner in cervical cancer, Jhpiego, a reproductive health-focused organization and affiliate of Johns Hopkins University. Jhpiego will provide ongoing support to the current See and Treat programs and support the expansion of planned additional facilities throughout Botswana.
Theme for today’s launch is, “The time for prevention is now; My health begins with me.” Let me repeat, ladies and gentlemen, cervical cancer is preventable. The U.S. government stands by you in your invaluable efforts to ensure this remarkable nation has a healthy, prosperous, and bright future for all its citizens. Thank you.