December 22, 2023
WASHINGTON – The key to the success of Indonesia’s bold plan to eliminate cervical cancer is that it should be treated not as a programme, but as a movement, says its Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin.
Indonesia’s strategy to bring down its cervical cancer rate – which is higher than the global average – is early detection and vaccination on a massive scale. This has to be enabled by unlocking the country’s social capital and getting help from the private sector, in addition to mobilising government primary health services, to reach a far-flung population.
“We have a 278 million population… almost half (of whom) are women,” the minister said.
New testing technology, which makes it possible to catch cervical cancer early, will be able to reduce mortality to below 30 per cent, he told this week’s Asian Insider podcast by The Straits Times.
Mr Budi is drawing on his experience as former chief executive of Bank Mandiri, Indonesia’s largest financial institution with a customer base of over 20 million, to get the message out to tens of millions of women to volunteer for tests and vaccinations.
Globally, in 2020 alone, there were more than 600,000 new cervical cancer cases and over 340,000 estimated deaths, based on World Health Organisation data.
In Indonesia, cervical cancer is the second most common female cancer after breast cancer, with 70 per cent of the patients diagnosed in advanced stages, when treatment is less effective. As a result, 50 per cent of them die from the cancer.
“The first strategy… is to do massive immunisation – and you’re talking about 50 to 60 million women,” Mr Budi said.
However, it is impossible for the government alone to reach so many women, he noted.
The strategy, therefore, is to reach out to employers in businesses across the country, to secure their cooperation in testing and vaccinating their female employees – and then extending the programme to their female family members.
The government would provide free vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the usually sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.
“It’s impossible that we do it exclusively as our initiative. We need to do this inclusively… so (that) every component of our country will help,” the minister said.
“We cannot approach this as a programme, we have to approach this as a movement,” he added. “In a movement, all the credit goes to everyone.”
Indonesia’s National Cervical Cancer Elimination Plan (2023-30) was announced officially in Washington in November during a visit to the American capital by President Joko Widodo.
The national plan has emerged out of a wide, inclusive consultative process that, according to its vision statement, is designed to “leapfrog” Indonesia to cervical cancer elimination based on “robust local and national leadership, evidence-based programming and multi-stakeholder collaboration”.
Asked about the cost of the programme, and who will fund it, the minister projected confidence, telling Asian Insider: “The money will come – because we are saving lives.”