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Australians helping women in Papua New Guinea get life-saving cancer treatment

Maeve Bannister (AAP) -

Australia is on track to become one of the first countries in the world to eliminate cervical cancer.

Yet women in neighbouring Pacific countries are dying from the highly preventable and manageable disease at higher than average rates.

Under a landmark initiative launched on Wednesday, tens of thousands of women in remote Papua New Guinea will have access to life-saving screening and treatments.

By the end of this year, the program aims to screen more than 14,000 women and a total of 30,000 by June 2025, representing 70 per cent of all eligible women in the Western Highlands province.

The partnership between the local health service and four Australian organisations is backed by an $8 million investment from the philanthropic Minderoo Foundation.

Professor Claire Wakefield, director of the foundation's Collaborate Against Cancer Initiative, told AAP one-quarter of the global cervical cancer burden was in the western Pacific.

"There are countries right on our doorstep that have this huge inequity," she said.

"Cervical cancer is really highly preventable and highly manageable and treatment is achievable if you get in early."

Under a pilot program, more than 2500 PNG women were screened for human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of almost all cervical cancers, and 431 received treatment.

Prof Wakefield said women were keen to access the health service they had waited decades for.

"Women are eager to engage and look after themselves ... but things like screening aren't prioritised because of prohibitive costs of travel to the capital city where these health services are available," she said.

"These are women who would have never otherwise had access to this care."

The program is being led and rolled out by the Western Highlands Provincial Health Authority, supported by the initiative.

Prof Wakefield said Australia and PNG would benefit from the partnership while saving many women's lives along the way.

"Australia's closest neighbour is PNG and it would be a grave mistake to not consider ourselves part of the greater Pacific family," she said.

"The innovations out of PNG are incredible and this is very much a two-way interaction that both countries can benefit from."

A registry has been set up to monitor the impact of the program and there are hopes of rolling out similar models in other Pacific countries, including East Timor and the Solomon Islands.


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   Maeve Bannister (AAP)   

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