The GAVI Alliance has announced that it will support vaccination programmes in Rwanda, Uganda and Uzbekistan aiming to protect 1.5 million girls against the cause of cervical cancer to coincide with International Women's Day 2014.
The first Alliance-supported national rollouts of the vaccine, which protects against human papillomavirus (HPV), will begin in Uganda and Uzbekistan in 2015 while Rwanda will switch from a vaccine manufacturer’s donation to GAVI Alliance support this year to secure the sustainability of its existing national programme.
“Cervical cancer is a scourge on women and their families in the world’s poorest countries,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “With limited access to screening and treatment, it is all the more important to vaccinate girls against HPV to give them the best protection possible against cervical cancer, which claims more than a quarter of a million women’s lives every year.”
The three countries have developed detailed plans to ensure that girls aged 10 - 12 years are vaccinated with HPV vaccine in schools and also that those who are not in the classroom are reached in communities through outreach by health workers.
'Grow up without fear of devasting killer'
“Three years ago, Rwanda became the first African country to implement a nationwide school-based, HPV immunisation programme, thanks to a donation,” said Dr Agnes Binagwaho, Rwandan Minister of Health.
“This month marks another 'first' as Rwanda shifts to GAVI-supported vaccination financing. Rwanda invests its own resources into co-financing vaccines from GAVI and so this transition marks an important step towards sustainability, and to ensure that every girl in Rwanda grows up without fear of this devastating killer.”
Last month, the GAVI Alliance announced that a further 10 countries will undertake HPV demonstration programmes which target specific areas of the country to enable them to build capacity and gain experience with implementation, which will inform the possibility of a future nationwide rollout.
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An estimated 266,000 women die every year from cervical cancer, of which more than 85% live in low-income countries, according to the latest statistics published by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
Without changes in prevention and control, cervical cancer deaths are expected to rise to 416,000 by 2035, with over 95% expected to be women living in poor countries.
Women in developing countries often lack access to cervical cancer screening and treatment, making HPV vaccine the best prevention tool against cervical cancer. Unlike most other vaccines, which are administered to children under the age of five, HPV vaccines are given to girls aged nine to 13. Immunising girls before initiation of sexual activity, that is before exposure to HPV infection, is a key strategy to prevent cervical cancer.