For girls in developing countries, good health in childhood and adolescence is a key to a bright future. When girls grow into healthy women, nations and communities benefit. Everybody benefits.
In GAVI we are committed to giving all children a good start in life by delivering life-saving vaccines including against two leading killers, pneumonia and diarrhoea, to the developing world.
While globally there is little difference in immunisation coverage rates between boys and girls, in countries where families prefer having sons over daughters, more boys than girls get immunised. Where women have low status, their children – both girls and boys – are less likely to be immunised. So we work with these countries to overcome gender-related barriers to immunisation. Countries identify the barriers to immunisation and GAVI provides health systems funding support to help reach those who are excluded.
Vaccines protect the health of women and mothers. With UNICEF we have reached more than 40 million women with maternal and neonatal tetanus vaccines, which protect against a lethal consequence of unclean deliveries.
Now, GAVI is supporting two more vaccines which can benefit the health of women and girls: human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines against cervical cancer and rubella vaccines against congenital rubella syndrome.
Worldwide, over one quarter of a million women die every year from cervical cancer. The vast majority of those deaths occur in developing countries. In Asia and Latin America, deaths from cervical cancer even outnumber those from pregnancy-related causes. So in the global fight to reduce mortality among women of reproductive age we have a new weapon: HPV vaccines that can prevent 70% of cervical cancer cases.
HPV vaccines are critically important to developing countries as cancer screening and treatment services are often unavailable. So in response to the enormous demand from countries, GAVI is working to ensure that HPV and other vaccines are affordable to the countries that need them the most. Last year, a vaccine manufacturer offered an indicative price for HPV vaccines to GAVI countries at US$ 5 per dose, a two-thirds reduction on the lowest public price. GAVI continues to work with vaccine manufacturers to achieve acceptable price commitments.
We are working with cancer, reproductive health and women’s organisations to help countries deliver HPV vaccines cost-effectively. We know how important it is to make sure that vaccination is delivered in an integrated way, with other important interventions for girls such as adolescent reproductive health, HIV prevention, nutrition, family planning and safe motherhood. Our goal is that by 2020, over 28 million girls will be immunised with HPV vaccines.
The other good news for women is GAVI’s support for rubella vaccination. Every year, 90,000 children are born in GAVI-eligible countries with severe birth defects just because their mothers were infected with rubella virus during pregnancy. This is totally preventable through the power of vaccines. GAVI will now support combined measles-rubella (MR) catch-up campaigns in countries immediately introducing MR vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes. By building on the momentum of accelerated measles control activities we believe that one billion children can be immunised against measles-rubella by 2020.
New vaccines, new delivery systems and affordable prices for new vaccines. GAVI is committed to delivering on its promise for women and girls – their right to a healthy future, no matter who they are, no matter where they live.
A decade ago, China had one of the world’s highest incidences of hepatitis B, a viral infection that is the primary cause of liver cancer.
Today, less than 1 percent of China’s children are carriers of hepatitis B – and as they age, the deadly liver cancer, once a leading killer in China, is becoming increasingly rare.
How was this achieved? From 2002-2010, my organization, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation, or GAVI, worked with the Chinese Ministry of Health to immunize 25 million newborns against hepatitis B in some of the poorest and most remote provinces in the country. The campaign helped avert hundreds of thousands of cancer-related deaths, and its success led the Chinese Government to add the hepatitis B vaccine — the first immunization known to prevent any form of cancer — into its national immunization programme.
Though their causes are viral, cancers such as liver and cervical cancer, are often described as part of the group of “non-communicable diseases” (NCDs) that also include diabetes and heart disease. The viral origins of these two cancers raise the question of whether “non-communicable” properly defines this group of diseases. We know that almost a fifth of cancer cases worldwide are caused by infections, and there are indications that a number of other chronic diseases are caused by infections, which might one day also be prevented by vaccines.
Vaccines are critical preventative tools to curb liver and cervical cancer, particularly in poorer countries where the burden is highest and health services are often limited. And they’re a good investment – the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks vaccines such as hepatitis B a “best buy” in preventing NCDs.
Considering the important role that these existing vaccines have and the potential for new vaccines, any global strategy that aims to tackle non-communicable diseases should include the power and potential of vaccination.
And so much more can be done. China is just one success. GAVI plans to reach 230 million more children with hepatitis B vaccination. And we’ve set our sights on cervical cancer too, the second most common cancer in women. While it is a global public health threat, nearly 90 percent of cervical cancer deaths are found in developing countries. GAVI’s aim is to replicate the important progress achieved in the fight against liver cancer by supporting the introduction of vaccines preventing human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes virtually all cervical cancer cases. Some, for political purposes, have questioned the value and importance of HPV vaccines. Let’s be absolutely clear – the science supports the use of this life-saving vaccine.
If the GAVI Board approves HPV vaccine funding at its November meeting, countries will be invited to apply for support. Ensuring a sufficient supply of affordable HPV vaccines will be key to our efforts and GAVI is already working with manufacturers to lower vaccine prices for developing countries.
On September 19 and 20, the global community will come together at the UN General Assembly for the first-ever high-level meeting on non-communicable diseases. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the meeting as “our chance to broker an international commitment that puts NCDs high on the development agenda where they belong.” Effectively knocking out non-communicable diseases and the chronic infections that cause many of them will require a comprehensive effort, and immunization belongs at the very heart of such an approach.