Distinguished guests, members of parliament, thank you for asking me to speak here today.
The U.S. Embassy congratulates the Women’s Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network, (WE CAN), on the organization of its Seventh Breast and Cervical Cancer Advocacy, Education and Outreach Summit. I salute WE CAN for gathering a wide range of stakeholders, including survivors, advocates, medical professionals, policy makers, government representatives, and others from over 15 Eastern Europe and Central Asia countries to discuss women’s health issues. This summit is an important step forward in addressing one of Romania’s, and the world’s, most serious health care challenges.
All of our countries are deeply concerned about rates of breast and cervical cancer in our populations. Every year, breast cancer and cervical cancer claim the lives of over 700,000 women globally. Breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among women worldwide, while cervical cancer is the fourth most frequently diagnosed cancer among women globally.
According to the World Health Organization and Romania’s National Health Strategy, Romania has the highest cervical cancer mortality in the EU. The life expectancy at birth for a Romanian woman is 77.5 years, which is five years less than the EU average in the EU. Vulnerable populations, including residents of rural communities and Roma, are among the most negatively affected, with low or limited access to quality basic health care services and lack of information, as the Minister stressed, and awareness regarding healthy lifestyles. These sobering statistics show that Romania has much work to do to confront this and other public health challenges.
However, in the United States, we also face challenges in addressing breast and cervical cancers. Breast cancer is the most common of all cancer in the United States, with doctors diagnosing 233,000 new cases each year and approximately 40,000 deaths. More than 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in the United States; cervical cancer will claim the lives of around 4,000 of these women every year. The United States spends on average more than USD $125 billion on cancer care every year, and that amount will only increase as the U.S. population ages, as cancer rates also increase with age. The United States Government fully recognizes the crisis that we face in the United States with combatting cancer, and our Government works through a variety institutions, including the National Cancer Institute, NCI, part of our National Institutes of Health, and other divisions of the Department for Health and Human Services, such as the Center for Disease Control, the CDC, to combat cancer.
The United States also recognizes cancer as a serious global health challenge. Consequently, the United States engages in efforts both domestically and internationally to better understand the disease, improve prevention, screening, and treatment of the disease, and ultimately to alleviate the burden of cancer around the world. We invest billions of dollars in cancer research, and additional billions in education for cancer prevention around the world.
In other parts of the world, such as Romania, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, the United States Government seeks to actively work through the National Cancer Institute’s Center for Global Health. The Center for Global Health supports initiatives such as this one today to sustain cancer research and cancer research networks.
Yet much more work remains to be done. We all must do more to increase cancer prevention. Research has shown that screening for some cancers, including cervical cancer, can very much help prevent the disease. Screening allows doctors to find precancerous lesions and treat them before they become cancer. Romania has recognized the importance of screening and early detection in its National Health Strategy for 2014-2020 and has stated a goal of increasing capacity and efficiency in these areas, as also discussed by the Minister. I only wish to encourage the Romanian government to implement completely its strategy by fully funding programs to make screening available to women of all incomes in all regions of Romania.
Further, lifestyle choices, such as avoiding tobacco, limiting use of alcohol, eating a healthy diet, avoiding prolonged sun exposure and being physically active, has been shown to be able to reduce an individual’s risk of cancer. We must ensure that children in all countries learn these important messages so they too will develop good habits now, today, as the bedrock for longer and healthier lives.
Although many of us here know this good advice, to take care of oneself, to eat properly and to exercise regularly, many women in Romania, Eastern Europe, and indeed in the United States still do not. I hope that you will continue to educate others so that these women will have an equal opportunity to prosper and live happy and healthy lives.
I wish you a fruitful discussion on this important issue of women’s health. I hope that this summit becomes a foundation for creative solutions to the unique problems of the public health care sector in Romania.