Musings and Analysis of the Politics and Policies of Development from Students at NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
May 5, 2009
I recently listened to a Public Radio International news report on Panama’s HPV campaign, which is vaccinating all 10-year old girls in the country for free. Cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death for women in Panama. The vaccine campaign has been very popular in the country, facing basically no resistance, unlike in the US, where there has been a very vocal group of people who argue that it advocates unsafe sex. The secret to the campaign in Panama is that they’re selling the vaccine to the public as a cancer vaccine, and not even telling people that it’s against a virus that is sexually transmitted. Some critics are arguing against the campaign, saying that it’s not right not to give people full information. Others are arguing that they’re missing an opportunity to educate people on safe sex. However, in my opinion, both of those arguments are weak, and the Panama campaign’s success should be applauded and replicated in other countries. If ‘full’ information was given to people, then there would most likely be an outcry against the vaccine, which would result in fewer vaccinations, and more women dying of cervical cancer than otherwise. The campaign does not contain any false information, which would obviously be wrong, it simply omits information that is not necessary for people to know in order to take advantage of the benefits of the vaccine. Safe sex campaigns have failed in the past because of the taboo involved, so there is no reason to think that tying that to the HPV vaccine would eliminate the taboo. Rather, it would likely subject the HPV vaccine campaign to the same fate. I think any other developing country with a similar level of HPV prevalence should implement a similar campaign, and even developing countries should consider a similar marketing approach. Even if the information about HPV being a sexually transmitted disease is available, it would be very interesting to see if it would be possible to re-frame the issue in the United States to make it more popular.