At the European Cancer Organisation’s annual European Cancer Summit held in Brussels in September 2019, a consensus resolution was passed by over 300 cancer stakeholders. It stated that: ‘By 2030, effective strategies to eliminate cancers caused by HPV as a public health problem should be implemented in all European countries.’
In December 2019, at a meeting in the European Parliament in Brussels, the European Cancer Organisation launched the HPV Action Network. This involves the widest possible range of professional, patient and civil society organisations at both the Europe-wide and national levels. It aims to influence the policy, practice and research agendas by engaging with clinicians and academics, politicians, government officials and those working for European or international agencies, professional associations, civil society organisations and the general public. The HPV Action Network’s area of activity extends beyond the European Union and covers the 53 countries in the wider WHO European region.
The European Commission’s new Beating Cancer Plan, currently under development and due to be published in late-2020, provides a major new opportunity for the development of a comprehensive set of recommendations to, and support for, Member States that aim to reduce the cancer burden caused by HPV and address inequalities between EU countries. Encouragingly, the European Commission’s Roadmap for the Beating Cancer Plan specifically mentions HPV as a potential area for action.1
The new EU Cancer Mission, as part of the forthcoming Horizon Europe Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, creates an opportunity for complementary action. Additionally, the new EU4Health Programme could support HPV cancer and disease elimination by developing tools such as a European Cancer Dashboard to monitor progress towards vaccination, screening and treatment goals.
There is already significant support for the introduction of universal vaccination across Europe. The European Parliament, in its resolution on vaccine hesitancy adopted in 2018, welcomed ‘the encouraging progress made in the fight against HPV diseases and cancers thanks to vaccination programmes against the HPV virus’ and called on Member States ‘to further develop these programmes and explore ways to increase coverage rates and prevent other forms of cancer, for example by including boys in vaccination programmes.’2
WHO Europe’s men’s health strategy, adopted in 2018, contains a recommendation that its Member States should consider a wide range of measures to improve the health and well-being of men and boys including ‘promoting the role of adolescent boys and men in policies, programmes and services related to […] sexually transmitted infections.’3 Almost half of all the countries in the WHO European Region now provide HPV vaccination to both sexes or plan to do so.
The WHO has a global strategy to accelerate cervical cancer elimination, with clear goals and targets for the 2020–2030 period. The strategy calls for global targets of 90% of girls to be vaccinated by the age of 15, 70% of women to be screened with a high-precision test at 35 and 45 years of age, and 90% of women with cervical disease to receive treatment and care.4 The WHO strategy provides a target for Europe and also the basis for a more ambitious programme to tackle all the cancers caused by HPV.
Europe can act as a beacon to other global regions to show what can be achieved when countries work together to achieve a major public health goal. Action across the European region to eliminate the cancers and diseases caused by HPV has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives and improve the quality of life of many more.