By Heba Kanso
BEIRUT, March 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Deaths from cervical cancer will double in the Middle East and North Africa by 2035 unless conservative nations vaccinate young women and tackle sexual taboos, a study said on Wednesday.
The Tunisian Center for Public Health, an advocacy group, urged governments in the region to vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, and increase screening to save lives.
"There is no public awareness about it," Zied Mhirsi, co-founder of the center, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"People in general don't know there is a vaccine. Women's health issues are not a priority in the region on a political level."
Cervical cancer is the second most fatal cancer for women in the region, the centre said, predicting some 19,000 deaths in 2035, up from about 9,000 in 2012, without action.
HPV is among the most common sexually transmitted diseases. Most infections do not cause symptoms and go away on their own, but the virus is a leading cause of cancer deaths among women worldwide.
Mhirsi said that discussing sexually transmitted infections like HPV can be a "taboo" in conservative Muslim societies like Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
But Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, has proven a regional leader by giving schoolgirls free vaccines for the past 10 years, he said.
Morocco was worst hit, with more than 2,000 cervical cancer deaths each year, he said.
(Reporting by Heba Kanso @hebakanso, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)
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