GAVI's role in preventing cancer

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How vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) help to protect against liver and cervical cancers

Claiming the lives of 7.6 million people every year, cancer hits hardest in low- and middle- income countries, where prevention, screening, treatment, and even pain relief are out of reach for most.

Existing vaccines against hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV) help to protect against liver and cervical cancers respectively, two cancers which together account for about 10% of the global cancer burden.

But chronic infections actually account for as much as 18% of all cancer cases, including liver, cervix, stomach, Kaposi’s sarcoma, bladder, and leukaemia. And vaccines could one day play an even bigger role in cancer prevention.

"Together let's do something"

The theme for this year’s World Cancer Day is “Together let’s do something”. The GAVI Alliance is doing the following:

  • Staying on track to reach 230 million children with the pentavalent vaccine between 2010 and 2015. Besides containing antigens against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), the five-in-one vaccine also protects against hepatitis B.
  • Supporting more countries than ever, including India, to use the pentavalent vaccine. The Asian giant accounts for more than a third of all children in the world who still do not receive routine immunisation.
  • Preparing to reach around 1.6 million girls and young women with the HPV vaccine by 2015. GAVI will invite eligible countries to apply for HPV vaccines support once a sustainable price from manufacturers is secured.

Hepatitis B

Our optimism for the future is based on our past success.

Since 2000, when GAVI was launched, 296 million children have been immunised against hepatitis B.

China, for example, once accounted for about one half of the world’s hepatitis B infections, with 10% of its population being chronic carriers. With GAVI support for hepatitis B vaccine, China reached millions of children especially in the poorer regions. Newborns immunised with first dose at birth rose from 64% to 90%. Less than 1% of children under five are now chronic carriers of hepatitis B. The successful introduction of hepatitis B vaccines in China is a model of what can be achieved.

More recently, in December 2011, India introduced the pentavalent vaccine with GAVI support in the states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kerala’s programme alone will reach more than half a million children every year.

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