The global health nonprofit PATH has launched a five-year effort to make sure that new cervical cancer vaccines - the first vaccines developed and approved just for women's health - reach women in the developing world.
A quarter-million women, most of them from the world's poorest countries, die of cervical cancer each year. The new vaccines protect against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes most cervical cancer cases.
"Cervical cancer disproportionately affects women in developing countries because infrastructure is lacking. Local health systems don't support preventive care like routine Pap smears," explained PATH program director Dr. Jacqueline Sherris. "While simpler screening approaches are emerging, vaccines are the best hope for lowering the death toll of this disease in the long run, and could even make rates in the developing world as low as in wealthier countries."
In order to get these vaccines to communities, ministries of health in developing countries must have the evidence they need to justify allocating resources to new vaccines, and plans must be made to integrate the new cervical cancer vaccines into existing health programs or new immunization initiatives.
PATH to conduct research, demonstration projects
With a $27.8 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH will conduct program research in India, Peru, Uganda, and Vietnam to gather the evidence countries need to make informed decisions about how to introduce the vaccine. PATH will help plan for and pilot introduction in the four countries, with the goal of informing regional and global vaccine introduction efforts and international financing plans.
"The pharmaceutical industry has demonstrated great leadership in developing vaccines to prevent cervical cancer," said Dr. Regina Rabinovich, director of infectious diseases at the Gates Foundation. "PATH will help determine how to deliver these vaccines in developing countries, where systems to reach young women with health services are fragile, and cervical cancer may not be seen as a problem because so few women are screened."
PATH will collaborate with international agencies and government officials in the four countries, and with industry partners Merck & Co., Inc., and GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals. Both pharmaceutical companies are expected to have approved vaccines available, and they will provide them to the demonstration projects.
"Merck is pleased to collaborate with PATH to explore the most effective and expeditious ways to bring the benefits of HPV vaccines to individuals living in developing countries," said Dr. Mark Feinberg, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Health Policy for the Merck Vaccine Division. "Given the significant burden of cervical cancer in the developing world, PATH's initiative to define effective strategies for overcoming the formidable challenges to successful implementation of HPV vaccines in resource-poor countries is a critical step at the vanguard of what needs to be a comprehensive and highly collaborative effort by the global public health community."