Press Release

New Vaccine Against Cervical Cancer: Major Opportunity for Developing World

12 December 2006
Author: UNFPA

LONDON/GENEVA — The introduction of a new vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes cervical cancer, could have a major impact on the health of women in the developing world. Over 250,000 women died from cervical cancer in 2005 - the vast majority in developing countries.

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 the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2005 there were over 500, 000 new cases of cervical cancer, of which over 90 per cent were in developing countries. Left untreated, invasive cervical cancer is almost always fatal.

See Also: A guidance note on HPV Vaccines and Sexual and Reproductive Health Programmes.

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 carry out in low-resource settings. In 2006, a vaccine* that protects against infection and disease associated with the HPV was licensed, and another vaccine may be licensed soon.

"The prospect of delivering new vaccines against HPV in the developing world could save hundreds of thousands of lives if implemented effectively," says Dr. Howard Zucker, Assistant Director-General for Health Technology and Pharmaceuticals at WHO. "The roll-out of the vaccine is important for several reasons: it is a very effective vaccine against a deadly cancer, it is the first primarily for women and the first vaccine for a reproductive health issue. The vaccine is a very potent technology to add to existing cancer control programmes based on prevention, screening and treatment."

The vaccines—which are initially targeted at girls and may be expanded to boys in the future before or around the time of first sexual activity—offer the unique opportunity to address segment of the populations that are traditionally difficult to reach: young adolescents. Thus, a multifaceted strategy should exploit the opportunity to promote sexual and reproductive health by strengthening health programmes for adolescents.

"We don't know the final cost of the vaccine in developing countries," says Dr. Arletty Pinel, Chief of the Reproductive Health Branch at UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. "But we can be certain it is going to be a major challenge to introduce it 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."

Mobilizing resources for strengthening health systems and purchasing HPV vaccines, both nationally and internally, must be a priority and there must be innovative ways to finance HPV introduction. At the 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.

In addition to being very effective in preventing a very common form of cancer, the introduction of the HPV vaccine has other potential benefits for health systems in general. The roll out of the vaccine could help build synergies among immunization, cancer control and sexual and reproductive health. It also has the potential to provide valuable experience for the introduction of any future vaccine against HIV.

*The HPV vaccine, known as Gardasil, is effective in preventing infections with the HPV types (16 and 18) that cause approximately 70 percent of all cervical cancers, and with those types (6 and 11) that cause approximately 90 percent of genital warts. Gardasil and another HPV vaccine, called Cervarix, are under regulatory review in countries around the world and may offer a new opportunity to eliminate cervical cancer, the number-two cancer killer of women.

***

UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV/AIDS, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect.

Contact Information:

UNFPA: Patricia Leidl, Mobile: +1-917-535-9508, leidl@unfpa.org 

WHO: Christopher Powell, Tel: +41-22-791-2888, Mobile +41-79-217-3425, powellc@who.int

Switzerland
Population : 8.6 mil
Fertility rate
1.6
Maternal Mortality Ratio
5
Contraceptives prevalence rate
73
Population aged 10-24
15%
Youth secondary school enrollment
Boys 87%
Girls 84%