With vaccines against the virus that causes most cases of cervical cancer, a disease that kills more than 250,000 women each year, now on the market, the United Nations health agency today stressed the tough decisions countries face before making the vaccine widely available, including cost-effectiveness, delivery and education.
?Even for developed countries, cost is a major barrier to making the vaccine widely available,? the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said in a news release, noting that developing countries, where the vast majority of deaths from the disease occur, face additional hurdles, such as not having a complete set of epidemiological data or a mechanism to deliver the vaccine.
The market price for Merck?s Gardasil for human papillomavirus (HPV), approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration last year, is about $90 a dose for each of a three-dose series, and that is before agents? fees.
The vaccine, so far been approved in 49 countries, with more expected to join the list this year, gives 100 per cent protection against infection from HPV types 16 and 18, responsible for 70 per cent of all cervical cancers. It also protects against HPV types 6 and 11 that cause genital warts.
?The HPV vaccine is no magic bullet: it has the potential to substantially reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer, but not to eradicate it,? WHO cautioned. But it noted that it is on the agency?s prequalification list, which could open the door to purchases in developing countries via UN agencies. ?There are challenges for countries in terms of cost and so on, but this vaccine is unique and offers tremendous possibilities,? WHO coordinator for the Initiative for Vaccine Research, Product Research and Development team Teresa Aguado said.
Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women, with deaths projected to rise by almost 25 per cent over the next 10 years, according to WHO. In 2005 there were more than 500,000 new cases, 90 per cent of them in developing countries. Left untreated, invasive cervical cancer is almost always fatal.