By Linda Alexander, Vice President of Women's Health and Global Advocacy, QIAGEN
I’m here in Beijing, at the 20th annual Global Summit of Women (May 20-22), where women business, NGO and government leaders have assembled to discuss strategies for advancing women’s economic opportunities and to lead, shape, and transform the global future.
The theme on this 20th anniversary year of the Global Summit is "Women at the Forefront of Change," and few cities in the world more embody rapid change than Beijing. From ancient pagodas to jaw-dropping modern architecture, and from rickshaw rides through alleyways to bustling subway stops, Beijing is vibrant and colorful, and feels both new and old at the same time.
It’s amazing to be here, in the presence of so many influential women leaders, including the Vice President of Vietnam, the Treasurer of the U.S., the First Lady of Tanzania, the Executive Vice President of Marriott International, and small business owners and NGO directors from areas as diverse as Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Sweden and beyond. There are over 1,000 participants from 80 different countries here, who are in many ways shaping the economic, business, and political future of our world.
The Global Summit of Women is a celebration of the leadership of women in all capacities, and – much like the upcoming Women Deliver conference – is a gathering with an eye toward solutions. We know the challenges that women face all too well, both personally and professionally. Like Women Deliver, the Summit is a “meeting of the minds” to network and discuss solutions and collaborations.
Core to a woman's ability to successfully lead – be it a country, a board, a business, or a household – is her health and well-being. For that reason, the Summit marries women's economic empowerment and women's health via its Global Consortium of Women to End Cervical Cancer, an initiative launched four years ago in an effort to help eradicate a pervasive, yet preventable, woman's cancer. Worldwide, cervical cancer affects approximately 500,000 women annually and is the second-most common cancer in women, resulting in 270,000 deaths each year – 80% of which occur in the developing world.
With these kinds of numbers, cervical cancer is not merely a health issue, but an economic issue that impacts the stability and prosperity of developing countries enormously. Yet, cervical cancer is also one of the world’s most preventable cancers because its primary cause is known: a virus called the human papillomavirus or HPV. Preventing cervical cancer prevention also does not depend on future technological discoveries, but is entirely possible right now. Screening for HPV can help identify women who are already at high risk for cervical cancer, allowing them to be monitored and treated early. Vaccinating girls against HPV can also help prevent cervical cancer as today's young generation become women. Together, these tools form a powerful defense arsenal, if made accessible and implemented effectively and strategically.
While women in developed countries often have easy access to state-of-the-art prevention, screening, and treatment for cervical cancer, the reality is drastically different for women in the developing world. Right now is an exciting time, because the health of women and girls is really gaining priority within the global economic and policy context. Maternal health is on the top of the list at the G8 Summit to be held in Canada in June, and with five years left to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), governments, corporate partners, and NGOs are increasingly working together to meet the needs of those in the poorest and lowest-resources parts of the world. The Global Summit of Women and Women Deliver are all part of that charge.
As part of the Global Summit’s Consortium of Women to End Cervical Cancer here in Beijing, the Vice Chair of the All China Women's Federation, the First Lady of Tanzania, the Deputy Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, and the CEO of China's Sun Media share information about strong efforts they will lead in the years ahead, to make cervical cancer prevention a priority in their communities. Women in every profession, in every area of the world, and in every type of leadership role, can and need to educate themselves and others about cervical cancer prevention.
Women can and are leading the charge to advocate that governments and health providers collaborate to ensure that cervical cancer prevention programs are in place and accessible – especially in developing countries. To that end, QIAGEN is also doing its part – developing a portable HPV test specifically for use in low-resource settings, which doesn’t require running water or main-line electricity and can enable women to be screened and, if necessary, treated on the same day.
QIAGEN is proud to be a sponsor of both meetings. Through our sponsorship we hope to enable increased dialogue and collaboration among key partners, to expand education, increase political will, and make sure prevention programs are firmly in place to truly put at end to this persistent, but needless, disease.
Through the efforts of Global Summit of Women, Women Deliver, and all of the many attendees and participants, women are bringing the message of prevention home to their communities. We can all work to make cervical cancer history; it is up to us to truly deliver.