Stronger protection for women and girls' health starts today

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GAVI CEO statement on International Women’s Day 2013


© UNICEF/2011/Marco Dormino

Geneva, 8 March 2013 - International Women’s Day 2013 marks the beginning of a dramatic shift in the health of women and girls. Starting this year, GAVI is supporting the poorest countries of the world to roll out two vaccines that will directly benefit women and girls: human papillomavirus (HPV) against cervical cancer and rubella against ‘German measles’.

Every two minutes, a woman dies from cervical cancer. Most of these 275,000 women live in developing countries, where the highest burden of cervical cancer exists. Each death is a tragedy – not only because it means the heart-breaking loss of a wife, a mother or a sister, but because most of these deaths could have been prevented.

Best hope

Safe and effective, HPV vaccines protect against 70% of cervical cancer cases. The vaccination of girls, coupled with screening and treatment of women, is the most effective strategy to reduce the number of cervical cancer cases. In reality, screening and treatment services in many poor countries either do not exist or are too few and far between. HPV vaccines provide the best hope at protecting girls against this terrible cancer.

By supporting countries to vaccinate girls aged 9 to 13 against HPV, GAVI is helping to protect future generations of women against cervical cancer. On World Cancer Day last month, we announced the first eight countries – the large majority in sub-Saharan Africa – that will receive GAVI-supported HPV vaccines.

Each country will pilot the best ways to deliver the vaccine to girls with other interventions that benefit their lives. Next year will see the first national introduction of the vaccine with GAVI support.

Vaccine against rubella

Protecting the health of women and infants is central to GAVI’s mission. In addition to support for HPV vaccines, for the first time GAVI is also supporting a vaccine against rubella, a disease that can cause stillbirth and miscarriage or babies born with serious birth defects known as Congenital Rubella Syndrome (CRS).

I am hopeful that by making life-saving vaccines available to women and girls in countries where they are need most, we are not only saving lives, but ensuring that women’s lives are healthy and fulfilling. 

Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance

Rubella vaccine has been available since the 1970s, but is underused in some regions, particularly Africa and South Asia. Every year, 112,000 babies are born with CRS in the world, condemning them to lifelong heart problems, deafness or blindness. 90,000 of these babies are born in countries eligible for GAVI support.

Working with the Measles & Rubella Initiative, GAVI is also supporting rubella vaccine in combination with measles, thereby building on GAVI’s long term support for measles control. The Alliance is investing more than US $600 million through large-scale vaccination campaigns designed to encourage countries to self-finance the introduction of measles-rubella into their routine immunisation programme.

Roll-out in six countries

The first GAVI-supported measles-rubella campaigns will roll out in six countries this year: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ghana, Rwanda, Senegal and Vietnam.

GAVI aims to deliver on its promise to girls and women for years to come. By 2020, over 30 million girls in more than 40 countries will be immunised with HPV vaccines, and more than 700 million children in 49 countries will be immunised against two life-threatening diseases –rubella and measles.

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to stop and think how far we have come in ensuring that women’s rights to a healthy life are protected across the globe. I am hopeful that by making life-saving vaccines available to women and girls in countries where they are need most, we are not only saving lives, but ensuring that women’s lives are healthy and fulfilling.

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