Introduction: HIV and cervical cancer are intersecting epidemics that disproportionately affect one of the most vulnerable populations in the world: women in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Historically, the disparity in cervical cancer risk for women in LMICs has been due to the lack of organized screening and prevention programmes. In recent years, this risk has been augmented by the severity of the HIV epidemic in LMICs. HIV-positive women are at increased risk for developing cervical precancer and cancer, and while the introduction of antiretroviral therapy has dramatically improved life expectancies among HIV-positive women it has not been shown to improve cancer-related outcomes. Therefore, an increasing number of HIV-positive women are living in LMICs with limited or no access to cervical cancer screening programmes. In this commentary, we describe the gaps in cervical cancer prevention, the state of evidence for integrating cervical cancer prevention into HIV programmes and future directions for programme implementation and research.
Discussion: Despite the biologic, behavioural and demographic overlap between HIV and cervical cancer, cervical cancer prevention has for the most part been left out of sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services for HIV-positive women. Lower cost primary and secondary prevention strategies for cervical cancer are becoming more widely available in LMICs, with increasing evidence for their efficacy and cost-effectiveness. Going forward, cervical cancer prevention must be considered a part of the essential package of SRH services for HIV-positive women. Effective cervical cancer prevention programmes will require a coordinated response from international policymakers and funders, national governments and community leaders. Leveraging the improvements in healthcare infrastructure created by the response to the global HIV epidemic through integration of services may be an effective way to make an impact to prevent cervical cancer among HIV-positive women, but more work remains to determine optimal approaches.
Conclusions: Cervical cancer prevention is an essential part of comprehensive HIV care. In order to ensure maximal impact and cost-effectiveness, implementation strategies for screening programmes must be adapted and rigorously evaluated through a framework that includes equal participation with policymakers, programme planners and key stakeholders in the target communities.
Keywords: HIV; cervical cancer prevention; integration; low- and middle-income countries.