World Bank, Gates, UN pledge close to $600m to end cervical cancer

Bill Gates, Co-Chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is pictured at an event at a hotel in New Delhi

LONDON (Reuters) - Global health donors pledged nearly $600 million towards eliminating cervical cancer on Tuesday, at the first global forum dedicated to fighting the disease.

The World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the U.N. children's agency UNICEF said in a joint statement that the funding would go towards expanding access to vaccination, screening and treatment worldwide.

A woman dies of cervical cancer roughly every two minutes, around 90% of them in low and middle-income countries, the partners said, where access to preventative vaccines as well as screening and treatment can be very limited.

That contrasts with many high-income countries that introduced the vaccine in the 2000s. The shot protects against the human papillomavirus virus (HPV), the cause of most cervical cancers worldwide.

"We have the knowledge and the tools to make cervical cancer history," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s Director-General, but the programmes are "still not reaching the scale required".

The Global Cervical Cancer Elimination forum, held in Cartagena, Colombia, presented the opportunity to change this, he said, as governments and global health partners committed to work together on ending the disease.

The WHO has already endorsed countries switching from a two or three-dose vaccination strategy to one-dose, to protect more girls. Countries at the forum like the Democratic Republic of Congo said they would start introducing the shot as soon as possible.

The World Bank will commit $400 million over three years, with $180 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and $10 million from UNICEF.

(Reporting by Jennifer Rigby; Editing by Ros Russell)