Conference Calls for Rapid Worldwide Access to New Cervical Cancer Vaccines
A landmark conference of civil society leaders and global policymakers today called for immediate action to ensure rapid global access to new cervical cancer vaccines that have the potential to save a quarter million lives a year. Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women, and 80 percent of cervical cancer deaths occur in the developing world, where access to screening and treatment is extremely limited. Newly proven vaccines protect women against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes virtually all cases of cervical cancer. "There is usually a 15 to 20 year delay between the time that new vaccines are approved in the West and the time they reach developing countries," said Dr. Nothemba Simelela, Director of Technical Knowledge and Support at the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). "The world cannot afford to wait 20 years to begin saving women from cervical cancer."
Health experts believe that HPV is among the fastest-growing sexually transmitted infections worldwide. Approximately 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer are reported annually. In industrialized countries, expanded screening and treatment have dramatically reduced cervical cancer rates over the last 60 years. But in developing countries, where more than 95 percent of women never have a pap smear, the death rate from cervical cancer continues to rise.
Merck & Co. licensed the first HPV vaccine earlier this year. A second vaccine, produced by GlaxoSmithKline, is expected to be licensed in 2007. These new HPV vaccines are nearly 100 percent effective in protecting against the two most virulent forms of HPV, which together cause 70 percent of cervical cancers. These new vaccines represent the first vaccines for cancer, the first vaccines primarily for women and adolescents, and the first vaccines for a reproductive health challenge.
Today's meeting, titled "Stop Cervical Cancer: Accelerating Global Access to HPV Vaccines," is the first international forum to address the full range of issues that impede global access to HPV vaccines. Health experts and officials at the meeting, held at the Royal College of Physicians in London, discussed ways to rapidly introduce HPV vaccines. Key barriers to delivering the vaccines to women include low levels of awareness, delivery challenges in developing countries, financing, regulatory and manufacturing issues, and lack of political support.
"Both political and economic commitments, along with innovative service delivery strategies, will be necessary to ensure that the vaccine is made available to women around the world," said Dr. Jacqueline Sherris, Strategic Program Leader for Reproductive Health at PATH. "It is essential to identify creative ways to locate new resources, including combining funds from external donors and national governments. We must raise awareness in countries where the need for these vaccines is greatest."
Meeting participants called on the international community to support the World Health Organization's prioritisation of HPV vaccines for fast-tracked prequalification. They also appealed to international stakeholders to continue forging critical partnerships across communities at global and local levels to fight cervical cancer. In addition to raising awareness in developing countries and building donor support, the meeting aimed to launch a larger movement working to ensure access to HPV vaccines.
The meeting brought together more than 60 key leaders from multilateral agencies, civil society, government, philanthropies and the pharmaceutical industry. It was convened by six non-profit organizations: the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Planned Parenthood Federation, the International Union Against Cancer, PATH, the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, and the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Civil society participants represented a diverse group of non-profits working on cancer, reproductive health, youth issues and HIV.
In addition to the co-conveners and other civil society leaders, participants included officials from WHO, the UN Population Agency, the GAVI Alliance, Merck & Co., GlaxoSmithKline, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the governments of Brazil, India, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Uganda and Vietnam. Scholarships were also provided for 14 health leaders from 12 developing countries.
"Each stakeholder has a role to play in preventing cervical cancer," said Isabel Mortara, executive director of the International Union Against Cancer. "This meeting is unique because it brings the key sectors to the table before the vaccines are widely in use. Partnerships across sectors and innovative health delivery approaches can help ensure global access to these new vaccines."
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