All girls deserve protection from cervical cancer

Geneva, 4 February 2009 - Girls in developing countries deserve the same access to a life-saving vaccine against cervical cancer as girls in richer nations, said the GAVI Alliance on World Cancer Day.

"Eighty-five percent of cervical cancer deaths each year are among women in the developing world," said Dr Julian Lob-Levyt, GAVI Alliance Chief Executive Officer. "While richer nations are taking the proper steps to protect their women from cervical cancer, women in developing countries are dying. We can and must stop this inequality."

Vaccines against the two most dangerous types of Human papillomavirus (HPV), that cause most cases of cervical cancer, have been available in industrialised countries since 2006.

If it can attract sufficient funding from donors, the GAVI Alliance aims to make the HPV vaccine available to girls in the world's poorest countries in the coming years. This could save 700,000 women from a painful and premature death.

Professor Harald zur Hausen, the 2008 Nobel Prize winner for medicine who discovered the link between HPV and cervical cancer, welcomed GAVI's plans to vaccinate girls in developing countries.

"The burden of cervical cancer falls upon the developing world where there is neither screening nor other ways of preventing and treating cancer," said Professor zur Hausen. "Approximately 260,000 women die from cervical cancer every year. GAVI's aim to provide the HPV vaccine to as many poor countries as possible is worthy of donor support."

Last October, the GAVI Alliance board agreed to prioritise HPV vaccines along with new vaccines against typhoid, Japanese encephalitis and rubella. However, the Alliance faces a funding gap of approximately US$4 billion in order to provide these vaccines and continue and expand existing programmes through 2015.

Through its large-scale purchasing power, GAVI estimates it can bring the cost of HPV vaccination down to a fraction of the current price. In Kenya, for example, it is estimated to cost $8-$25 per vaccinated girl, including delivery and administration. In industrialised countries the price is several hundred US$ per vaccinated girl.

Dr Lob-Levyt described a recent recommendation on cervical cancer by the World Health Organization's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) as a "stepping stone on the way to more equity in global health."

"The SAGE recommendation is a significant encouragement to move ahead with our plans to bring the HPV vaccine to poor countries," he said. "With SAGE's approval, developing countries will begin to ask for this vaccine. We must be ready to answer their call."

Click here to access the SAGE report 

Click here for more information on World Cancer Day 

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