Cancer Center and Rotary Club of Birmingham work to end cervical cancer in Sri Lanka

From left: Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., Edward Partridge, M.D., and Susan Jackson, executive director of the Birmingham Rotary Club.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Rotary Club of Birmingham are joining forces with the Rotary Club of Colombo and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem in Sri Lanka. If successful, Sri Lanka will be the first country to achieve such a goal.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, and second among women in Sri Lanka as well. The disease is preventable through age-appropriate HPVvaccination and screening, yet unnecessary deaths continue to occur. Prevention tools and strategies are in place to eliminate the disease; however, adopting the practices still poses a major health problem.

“UAB, a leader in health care and education, has the ability to expand on its existing international partnerships to address relevant global health issues such as cervical cancer prevention and control,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., a former director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center who is currently representing the Rotary Club of Birmingham in this effort. “This is a true public-private partnership where UAB, with its historical knowledge, can provide the scientific expertise for this initiative.”

The key to cervical cancer prevention is having a catalyst to mobilize organizations and communities around a common goal. “This movement is no longer in the hands of the medical community, as cervical cancer screening and vaccination discoveries are already in existence,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine and associate director for Globalization and Cancer at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “There are many socio-economic reasons and cultural reasons that stand in the way of adherence, but we can institute evidence-based practices that can legitimately move the needle.”

“Together, significant progress has been made toward a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and control plan in Sri Lanka, and implementation steps are underway to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem.”

As a polio survivor, Scarinci has witnessed firsthand the ability of Rotary International to serve as a champion to motivate communities around the polio vaccine worldwide. “If we look to PolioPlus as an example, it was not just the vaccine that eliminated polio, it was social mobilization,” Scarinci said. “The same thing can be done with cervical cancer and other HPV-related cancers, if the scientific, public and private sectors can combine efforts and expertise.”

The Rotary clubs of Birmingham and Colombo have a longstanding partnership and together have worked to establish the first regional cancer prevention and early detection center in Sri Lanka. Given that these clubs are already tackling cancer prevention, this presents an opportunity to potentially integrate low-cost cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment activities into existing health care programs from an evidence-based perspective.

“Successful progress reports from the Rotary clubs’ breast cancer early detection project — along with some strong indicators from the population itself — partially inspired Ed Partridge’s suggestion to tackle cervical cancer in Sri Lanka,” said Susan Jackson, executive director of the Rotary Club of Birmingham “Ed’s passion in leading the Rotary Cervical Cancer Project–Sri Lanka is more than matched by Isabel’s, whose knowledge, experience and energy are critical to the training and the education that are central to the mission of the project.”

Recently, representatives from the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Globalization and Cancer Initiative along with Rotary Club of Birmingham members met in Sri Lanka with representatives from the Rotary Club of Colombo, the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization and Rotary International to unveil the plan.

It was determined that the team from the United States, utilizing the expertise of Rotary Club of Birmingham and UAB, could assist with social mobilization, education and awareness strategies, and the development and implementation of specific culturally relevant strategies to reach women who are not responsive to broader efforts.

“Together, significant progress has been made toward a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention and control plan in Sri Lanka, and implementation steps are underway to be the first country to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem,” Scarinci said. “And this is not only exciting but promising for other countries to emulate.”