HPV vaccine girl Brazil Pan American Health Organization/Flickr

Stopping Women’s Next Biggest Killer

Great strides are being made in reducing maternal deaths in poor countries, but those gains could be undone by a new threat to women’s health. For the first time, the number of cervical cancer deaths per year is poised to outstrip the total caused by childbirth.

GENEVA – For women, the act of bringing life into this world has historically meant risking their own lives, with the real prospect of death during childbirth. But, though great strides are being made in reducing maternal deaths in poor countries, those gains could be undone by a growing threat to women’s health. For the first time, the number of deaths caused by cervical cancer every year is poised to outstrip the total caused by childbirth.

The trend partly reflects the success of efforts to reduce maternal deaths. Since 1990, the number of women dying as a result of childbirth has been nearly halved, to 289,000 per year. Over the same period, however, annual deaths from cervical cancer have increased by almost 40%, to 266,000. Even as better standards of care continue to cut maternal mortality, cervical cancer deaths are expected to rise further. By 2035, the disease is expected to cause 416,000 women to die slowly and painfully every year – virtually all of them in developing countries (mostly Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia).

The tragedy is that these deaths are almost entirely preventable. Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, coupled with screening and treatment, could prevent the vast majority of cervical cancer cases. But almost 90% of the women who die from cervical cancer are in developing countries, where, for too many of them, screening services are unavailable, and treatment even less so.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in

  1. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

    Angela Merkel’s Endgame?

    The collapse of coalition negotiations has left German Chancellor Angela Merkel facing a stark choice between forming a minority government or calling for a new election. But would a minority government necessarily be as bad as Germans have traditionally thought?

  2. Trump Trade speech Bill Pugliano/Getty Images .

    Preparing for the Trump Trade Wars

    In the first 11 months of his presidency, Donald Trump has failed to back up his words – or tweets – with action on a variety of fronts. But the rest of the world's governments, and particularly those in Asia and Europe, would be mistaken to assume that he won't follow through on his promised "America First" trade agenda.

  3. A GrabBike rider uses his mobile phone Bay Ismoyo/Getty Images

    The Platform Economy

    While developed countries in Europe, North America, and Asia are rapidly aging, emerging economies are predominantly youthful. Nigerian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese young people will shape global work trends at an increasingly rapid pace, bringing to bear their experience in dynamic informal markets on a tech-enabled gig economy.

  4. Trump Mario Tama/Getty Images

    Profiles in Discouragement

    One day, the United States will turn the page on Donald Trump. But, as Americans prepare to observe their Thanksgiving holiday, they should reflect that their country's culture and global standing will never recover fully from the wounds that his presidency is inflicting on them.

  5. Mugabe kisses Grace JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

    How Women Shape Coups

    In Zimbabwe, as in all coups, much behind-the-scenes plotting continues to take place in the aftermath of the military's overthrow of President Robert Mugabe. But who the eventual winners and losers are may depend, among other things, on the gender of the plotters.

  6. Oil barrels Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Getty Images

    The Abnormality of Oil

    At the 2017 Abu Dhabi Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the consensus among industry executives was that oil prices will still be around $60 per barrel in November 2018. But there is evidence to suggest that the uptick in global growth and developments in Saudi Arabia will push the price as high as $80 in the meantime.

  7. Israeli soldier Menahem Kahana/Getty Images

    The Saudi Prince’s Dangerous War Games

    Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is working hard to consolidate power and establish his country as the Middle East’s only hegemon. But his efforts – which include an attempt to trigger a war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon – increasingly look like the work of an immature gambler.