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UN agencies call for funding to provide cervical cancer vaccine to developing world

UN agencies call for funding to provide cervical cancer vaccine to developing world

New vaccines against the virus that causes cervical cancer could save hundreds of thousands of women’s lives in the developing world, home to the vast majority of the more than 250,000 women who died from the disease last year, and funding to make them available must be a priority, United Nations health officials said today.

The recently licensed vaccine is effective in preventing infections with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 that cause some 70 per cent of all cervical cancers, as well as in preventing infections with types 6 and 11 that cause about 90 per cent of genital warts.

“New vaccines against HPV in the developing world could save hundreds of thousands of lives if delivered effectively,” UN World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director-General for Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals Dr Howard Zucker told an international conference in London organized by six non-governmental organizations (NG0s) – Stop Cervical Cancer: Global Health Strategies.

“The roll-out of effective HPV vaccines is important for several reasons: they help in combating a deadly cancer and are a potent technology to add to existing cancer control programmes based on prevention, screening and treatment,” he said.

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) stressed that mobilizing resources for strengthening health systems and purchasing HPV vaccines, both nationally and internationally, must be a priority, and there must be innovative ways to finance HPV introduction.

At an international level, partnerships will be needed to try to reduce the usual time-lag between formal registration and availability in developed countries, and establishing a negotiated price and adequate production capacity to supply developing countries.

“We don't know the final cost of the vaccine in developing countries,” the head of UNFPA’s Reproductive Health Branch Arletty Pinel said. “But, we can be certain it is going to be a major challenge to introduce quickly where it is needed most – in the poorest countries.

“Eighty per cent of women who die of cervical cancer are generally poor and live in underserved areas. They will be the ones to benefit most from affordable prices and access to this vaccine,” she added.

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women, with deaths projected to rise by almost 25 per cent over the next 10 years, according to WHO. In 2005 there were more than 500,000 new cases, 90 per cent of them in developing countries. Left untreated, invasive cervical cancer is almost always fatal.

Well-organized screening and early treatment programmes have been very effective in preventing the most common kind of cervical cancer but they are costly and difficult to implement in low-resource settings.