Africa News (05.17.2013)
In concert with Cervical Cancer Week, Kenya has announced universal distribution of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for girls, thanks to a UNICEF contract with Gardasil’s manufacturer Merck. HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection, is the origin of approximately 75 percent of cervical cancers. Data indicate HPV causes an estimated 275,000 deaths annually and is the second largest source of cancer mortality among women in low- and middle-income countries.
With the UNICEF award, GAVI-eligible countries will be able to launch demonstration projects or country-wide HPV immunization programs. The contract will remain in effect until 2017 and will assist with the introduction of HPV vaccination into 28 countries. UNICEF expects to make additional awards as demand for the vaccine increases. The contract also will benefit Merck, whose sales of Gardasil have plateaued at approximately $1.1 billion annually since 2009.
Cervical cancer remains a “leading cause of mortality” in developing countries because process-intensive Pap testing is not practical in countries that lack local healthcare infrastructure and access to healthcare services. For example, Kenyan women may receive one Pap test in their lives, while US women receive Pap testing almost annually. Healthcare professionals diagnose approximately 500,000 cases of cervical cancer worldwide each year, and the majority of these diagnoses (85 percent) occur in developing countries.
In 2012, CDC recommended a three-dose HPV immunization for 11- to 13-year-old girls and boys. More than 40 HPV strains exist, with each one capable of causing infection in either the genital or oral areas. HPV immunization protects girls from cervical cancer and protects boys from most genital warts and anal cancers. Although the vaccine is most effective at the age of 11 or 12, before sexual activity is initiated, it is available for men up to age 26. The World Health Organization recommended “routine” HPV vaccination in 2009.