June 2, 2009
Developed countries should take more responsibility in helping women in less developed countries get proper vaccinations against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer and many other diseases, world health experts said Monday.
At the first “Symposium on HPV Vaccination in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East Regions” held in Seoul Monday, policy makers and health and vaccine experts from 36 countries agreed that more HPV vaccines should be supplied to women in the Asia-Pacific and Middle East region, where 270,000 women a year are diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 140,000 die of it.
Dr. Xavier Bosch, chief of International Affairs at the Catalan Institute of Oncology in Barcelona, said that the vaccine could make a dramatic change in the area.
“There are very few types of cancer or severe disease with known causes _ hepatitis B and C, liver cancer and others,” he said in his interview with The Korea Times. “Luckily enough, experts have developed vaccines which could cut down the cancer prevalence rate by 70 percent,” he said.
However, the sad irony is that the women who are most affected by the virus, are the ones who cannot afford it ― the cost for a Gardasil injection in Korea ranges between $420 and $520.
Bosch said, “Women in more developed countries pay high prices for the newest vaccine to benefit from its effects first and make up for the pharmaceutical companies’ investment. But on the other hand, that lets less developed countries’ people benefit from the drug at lower prices.”
Experts at the seminar called for steps to make the vaccine available to more people around the world. The World Health Organization has suggested that the United Nations permit regional branches to purchase the vaccine and distribute it.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization is also seeking ways to provide the drug to Vietnam, Uganda and other countries. “Also, we have noticed that more companies are ready to negotiate as they are ready to take responsibility,” Bosch.
Bosch said with the vaccine, women and some men ― some doctors allow off-label vaccination of males ― will be able to live their lives without worrying about HPV. “I hope one day, HPV will be a very rare disease, something for which we do not need regular screenings. We have seen such progress in polio,” he said.
Cervical cancer, where tumors are found at the entrance of the uterus, used to be the No.1 diagnosed gynecological cancer in Korea just a decade ago. Most transmissions take place during sexual intercourse.
The disease prevalence has decreased in the past 10 years. However, according to the WHO, about 12 women here are diagnosed with the disease every day, and three die of it.