Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human papillomavirus-based testing services to support cervical cancer screening

Acta Dermatovenerol Alp Pannonica Adriat. 2021 Mar;30(1):21-26.


Introduction: The World Health Organization elimination goal for cervical cancer relies on screening 70% of women at ages 35 and 45, preferentially through molecular HPV testing. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has led to an unprecedented demand for molecular tests and platforms. Our objective was to gain insight into the impact of SARS-CoV-2 on the actual or anticipated shortage of tests, equipment, consumables, and staff required to deliver molecular HPV laboratory services and to consider the implications for the sustainability and development of cervical screening programs.

Methods: A 19-item online questionnaire was created and made available online between December 2020 and February 2021. Five companies with clinically validated HPV and SARS-CoV-2 tests in their portfolios were invited to provide a statement on the volumes of molecular COVID-19 tests produced, relevant changes to manufacturing capacity, and their current and post-pandemic strategy for HPV tests.

Results: We received responses from 57 laboratories representing 30 countries and six continents. Among these, 74% reported experiencing a supply shortage, 54% reported a shortage of personnel, and 33% reported delays in ordering equipment. Three companies described expansion of manufacturing lines, investment in diagnostic infrastructure, and scale-up of manufacturing capacity. Two companies specifically referred to opportunities for the use of platforms for COVID-19 testing to support HPV testing in time.

Conclusions: The demand for SARS-CoV-2 testing is competing with HPV testing, compounded by a shortage of staff. This represents a challenge for existing laboratory services and for settings keen to implement HPV-based screening. However, supply challenges may be addressed in time, given the significant investment in manufacturing capacity. In addition, innovation around molecular COVID-19 testing systems may result in solutions that address the shortage of rapid low-cost HPV testing systems for low-resource settings. Finally, because the demand for COVID-19 testing is likely to decrease, this may release both workforce and platform capacity for high-throughput HPV testing. The global health community should be alert to the opportunities around innovation and capacity if cervical cancer elimination goals are to be reached.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • COVID-19 / epidemiology*
  • COVID-19 Testing / statistics & numerical data
  • Early Detection of Cancer / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Papillomaviridae / isolation & purification
  • Papillomavirus Infections / diagnosis*
  • Papillomavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Young Adult