DHAKA, 17 November 2011 – Responding to demand from developing countries, the GAVI Alliance will take the first steps towards the introduction of Human papillomavirus and rubella vaccines, the GAVI Board announced on Thursday.
Although HPV vaccines are part of routine immunization in many high-income countries, they are largely unavailable in low-income countries despite the high burden of deaths. The price of HPV vaccine has been a major barrier to routine use. If GAVI’s negotiations with manufacturers are successful in securing a sustainable price, up to two million women and girls in nine developing countries could be protected from cervical cancer by 2015.
Responding to projected demand from 30 countries and WHO’s recommendations, the Board also agreed to open a funding window for vaccines against the rubella virus which threatens pregnancies and child health. The plan is to reach 588 million children with rubella vaccines by 2015.
“This initiative has huge potential impact for women and families living in the developing world,” said Seth Berkley MD, CEO of the GAVI Alliance. “The HPV vaccine is critical to women and girls in poorer countries because they usually do not have access to screening to prevent cervical cancer and treatment if they develop it that their counterparts in richer nations take for granted. As a result, they are the most affected. Today, we have taken small but deliberate steps to correct this inequity.”
“Decisions taken at this meeting will contribute to GAVI’s mission to save millions of lives and protect people’s health,” said Dagfinn Høybråten, Chair of the GAVI Alliance Board. "We are helping countries accelerate access to life-saving vaccines, deploying innovative performance-based funding and driving a more proactive approach to leveraging the vaccine market.”
Highly transmissible, HPV causes approximately 275,000 cervical cancer deaths every year, of which 88% occur in developing countrieswhere women often lack access to cancer screening and treatment. Besides being a serious public health problem, cervical cancer is also a development issue. Experts say that number could increase to 430,000 women every year by 2030 if action is not taken. Safe and effective HPV vaccines may prevent 70% of cervical cancer cases. HPV also causes other more rare cancers in both men and women.
Since 2009, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends routine HPV vaccination for inclusion in national immunization programs. The HPV vaccine is generally considered to be best administered to girls between the ages of 9/10 and 13 years, before girls become sexually active and potentially exposed to HPV.
The most effective way to reduce deaths from cervical cancer is through a combination of vaccination, screening and treatment. HPV vaccination alone is of importance in the prevention of cervical cancer in low-income countries where screening and treatment services are lacking.
In a move prioritizing women’s health, the GAVI Alliance also opened a funding window for vaccines against the rubella virus which threatens pregnancies and child health. The plan is to reach 588 million children with rubella vaccines by 2015.
Speaking in Dhaka on Tuesday evening, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon encouraged the GAVI Board, other global health partners and the pharmaceutical industry to “deliver the promise of a future free from the threat of cervical cancer to millions of young women thanks to the HPV vaccine.”
“Investing in their health and their future is the best investment we can make,” Mr Ban added, a year after he launched his Every Women Every Child strategy which GAVI pledged to support with vaccines including HPV and rubella.
GAVI-funded rubella vaccines will be combined for easy delivery with measles vaccines in a single measles-rubella (MR) shot, supporting the global measles immunisation effort. If contracted by pregnant women, rubella can lead to multiple severe birth defects that cause lifelong disabilities. An estimated 90,000 such birth defects occur every year in countries supported by GAVI, equal to 80% of the global burden. It can also lead to miscarriage and stillbirth.
New WHO data confirmed that, since its creation in 2000, GAVI has helped immunise 325 million children and has supported countries to prevent more than 5.5 million premature deaths.
Since GAVI began introducing support for pneumococcal vaccines in December 2010, more than three million children have been immunised. Another 10 million are expected to receive the vaccine in 2012 helping protect them against the leading cause of pneumonia.
By the end of 2012, an estimated 4.8 million additional children will have also received the rotavirus vaccine, protecting them from rotavirus diarrhoea, another leading cause of vaccine-preventable child mortality.
Host country Bangladesh has successfully boosted its routine immunisation rates to reach 95% of infants. With support from donors, the country has driven under-five child mortality rates down by nearly two thirds between 1990 and 2009.
Today’s announcements strengthen GAVI’s ambition to avert close to four million future deaths by 2015 through immunisation, an investment that helps build healthy communities and propels development.