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Hope from cancer jab

2nd January 2007

04092006_cervical_cancer1.jpg New vaccines against a virus that causes more than 250,000 deaths a year from cervical cancer could have a major impact on the health of developing nations if properly delivered, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.

The majority of global deaths from cervical cancer, which is caused by two types of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), occur in the developing world, and would be preventable if the vaccines were made available, it said in a statement.

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women, with deaths expected to rise by almost 25% over the next decade.

In 2005, there were more than half a million new cases of cervical cancer, of which more than 90% were in developing countries. Left untreated, invasive cervical cancer is almost always fatal.

While screening programmes are costly, 2006 saw the licensing of a new vaccine that protects against infection and disease associated with the HPV, and another vaccine is in the pipeline.

WHO said the recently licensed vaccine was effective in preventing infections with the HPV types (16 and 18) that cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers, as well as in preventing infections with those types (6 and 11) that cause approximately 90% of genital warts.

The vaccines -- which are initially targeted at girls and may be expanded to boys in the future before or around the time of first sexual activity -- target populations which are notoriously hard to reach: young adolescents.

"Mobilizing resources for strengthening health systems and purchasing HPV vaccines, both nationally and internationally, must be a priority and there must be innovative ways to finance HPV introduction," the Geneva-based body said.

Partnerships would be needed to try to reduce the usual time-lag between formal registration and availability in developed countries, and to establish a negotiated price and adequate production capacity to supply developing countries, it added.

The vaccine might also provide valuable experience for the introduction of any future vaccine against HIV, it said.



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