Drugmaker Merck & Co. announced Wednesday at the Clinton Global Initiative's (CGI) annual meeting in New York that it will "donate more than $500 million of its Gardasil cervical cancer vaccine" with the goal of improving women's health in developing countries, Bloomberg reports. The vaccine works by preventing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. The Netherlands-based company Qiagen NV said it "will donate tests to screen patients to determine if they have certain strains" of HPV, according to the news service (Pettypiece, 9/23).
Reuters/Forbes reports that "Merck will provide up to 5 million free doses of Gardasil and Qiagen intends to add to its existing 1 million test donation program by providing HPV DNA tests to screen an additional 500,000 women. The companies said they plan to seek other partners to set up public sector cervical cancer programs, provide treatment, and support improvements in laboratory and vaccine delivery" (9/23).
In a press release, Margaret McGlynn, head of Merck's vaccine division, said, "Nearly every minute of every day a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer, and many of these women live in developing countries where the burden of the disease is disproportionately high and health-care infrastructure is limited." According to the WHO, about 80 percent of the 510,000 annual cases of cervical cancer occur among women in developing countries, including 68,000 in Africa, Bloomberg reports (9/23).
Meeting Highlights Gender Inequality
Also on Wednesday at the CGI meeting, "the importance of gender equality took center stage, with speakers emphasizing how investing in girls and women can have repercussions at all levels of a society," the AP reports. Former President Clinton said that "empowering women is central to what the world has to do in the 21st century" in order to improve the political, social and economic status of women around the world (Hajela, 9/22).
"Edna Adan Ismail, a women's rights activist from Somalia who founded a maternity hospital there, said her most pressing near-term needs include water for hand-washing, mid-wife training and medical equipment. 'There are so many things, but if we prioritize them, I would say education, education and yet more education,' Ismail said," Reuters writes. The founder and head of Women for Women International, Zainab Salbi, said, "Money is not the problem ... it's available. But the political decision to say 'we need to actually invest much more in girls and women' is not fully there yet" (Geller, 9/23).