17 November 2011

GAVI Takes on Cervical Cancer and Rubella

I originally wrote this post for PSI Healthy Lives Blog.
Big news on the global health front. GAVI announced today that it intends to introduce HPV and rubella vaccines in developing countries. Each year cervical cancer causes 275,000 deaths with 88% taking place in poor countries. It is projected that the number of deaths will rise to 430,000 women each year by 2050 if no action is taken. To reduce the impact, GAVI has set the ambitious goal of vaccinating 2 million women and girls against HPV and thus protecting them against cervical cancer by 2015.
By providing a vaccine against HPV, up to 70% of cervical cancer cases can be avoided. “This initiative has huge potential impact for women and families living in the developing world,” said Seth Berkley MD, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “The HPV vaccine is critical to women and girls in poorer countries because they usually do not have access to screening to prevent cervical cancer and treatment if they develop it that their counterparts in richer nations take for granted. As a result, they are the most affected. Today, we have taken small but deliberate steps to correct this inequity.”
A young woman receives immunization against measles and rubella during an immunization campaign in Laos, November 2011.
The ability to roll out the HPV vaccine will depend on partnerships formed with pharmaceutical companies. “Nina Schwalbe, [GAVI's] managing director for policy and performance, said discussions were ongoing with the makers of the world’s two approved HPV vaccines, Merck & Co Inc and GlaxoSmithKline Plc,” reports Reuters.
Rubella, a virus that largely affects pregnant women and children, causes an estimated 90,000 birth defects every year in countries supported by GAVI. Pregnant women who contract rubella are also at an increased risk of miscarriage. GAVI plans to vaccinate 588 million children against rubella by 2015 in 30 countries. To make the program more effective, GAVI-funded rubella vaccines will be delivered alongside measles vaccines in a single shot.
The announcement by GAVI has received support UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged who encouraged GAVI’s board of directors on Tuesday to “deliver the promise of a future free from the threat of cervical cancer to millions of young women thanks to the HPV vaccine.”