Nay Pyi Taw, 27 October 2020 – Around 450,000 girls each year will be protected from the leading cause of cervical cancer following the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into Myanmar’s routine immunisation programme.
In putting in place the programme, Myanmar’s Union Minister for Health and Sports, H.E. Dr Myint Htwe, outlined stringent COVID-19 safety measures at the launch ceremony in the nation’s capital including strict physical distancing and catch-up immunisations for the 73 stay-at-home townships that are currently under tighter COVID-19 restrictions.
Myanmar has the second-highest incidence of cervical cancer among Southeast Asian countries, amounting to 21 cases per 100,000 women. In 2018, 6,472 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in Myanmar, of which 3,856 died.
“The introduction of the HPV vaccine into the national immunisation programme, which will be available to all regardless of race, religion and ethnicity, is a huge investment for the government which will be beneficial to the country in the long term,” said State Counsellor H.E. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. “The availability of effective vaccines will enhance public confidence and trustworthiness and consequently will also improve immunisation coverage of other vaccines.”
The vaccines, provided with financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, will aim to reach all girls aged between 9-101 in two doses administered twelve months apart.
“Cervical cancer is a preventable and curable disease, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively,” said Dr Myint Htwe, Myanmar’s Union Minister for Health and Sports. “Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective interventions and can reduce incidence of cervical cancer, improve the quality of life for women and reduce the psychological stress and financial burden of cervical cancer. We will strive to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem.”
“The fact that the Government of Myanmar has been able to introduce this life-saving vaccine in the midst of a pandemic is testament to the government’s commitment to improving public health,” said Thabani Maphosa, Gavi Managing Director for Country Programmes. “Cervical cancer takes the lives of hundreds of thousands of women worldwide every year. For girls across the country the introduction of this safe and effective vaccine means they can look forward to a healthier future.”
The Ministry for Health and Sports also outlined other key elements of the World Health Organization’s strategy to eliminate cervical cancer including early screening and treatments for pre-cancerous lesions. Invitation cards and a vaccine information sheet will be distributed by health workers to provide information about cervical cancer and the benefits of the HPV vaccine to build trust and improve vaccine coverage.
Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Gavi-eligible countries and globally, one woman dies of cervical cancer every two minutes. Without changes in prevention and control, cervical cancer deaths are set to rise from about 311,000 women each year, to 416,000 by 2035.
As of the end of 2019, Gavi has supported the immunisation of 4.8 million girls and helped 18 countries introduce HPV vaccines, including 8 countries in 2019 alone. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Gavi-eligible countries have continued prioritising this life-saving vaccine. Myanmar, Lao PDR and Cameroon will have all introduced this vital vaccine in 2020.