* Eight countries to start pilot projects backed by GAVI
* Cervical cancer HPV vaccines are made by Merck and GSK
* Over 85 pct of cervical cancer deaths are in poor nations
By Kate Kelland
LONDON, Feb 4 The GAVI global vaccines group is
to help protect more than 180,000 girls in eight countries
across Africa and Asia from cervical cancer by funding
immunisation projects with vaccines from Merck and
The non-profit GAVI Alliance, which funds bulk-buy
vaccination programmes for poor nations, said on Monday that
Ghana, Kenya, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and
Tanzania would be the first countries to get its support for
cervical cancer protection pilot projects.
Merck's Gardasil and GSK's Cervarix vaccines are the world's
only two approved shots designed to protect against the sexually
transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes the vast
majority of cervical cancer cases.
More than 85 percent of cervical cancer deaths occur in
developing nations and 275,000 women die of the disease each
year. This means cervical cancer now kills more women worldwide
than childbirth, claiming a life every two minutes, GAVI said.
Experts say the annual worldwide cervical cancer death rate
could rise to 430,000 by 2030 if no action is taken to protect
more women from it.
"Introducing the HPV vaccine in developing countries is the
start of a global effort to protect all girls against cervical
cancer," GAVI chief executive Seth Berkley said in a statement.
A study published in 2011 found that since 1980 new
cervical cancer case numbers and deaths have dropped
substantially in rich countries - many of which have screening
programmes and have also recently introduced HPV vaccinations -
but risen dramatically in Africa and other poor regions.
GAVI - backed by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the
World Health Organization, the World Bank, UNICEF, donor
governments and others - has been working with the vaccine
manufacturers to secure the most affordable price for the shots.
Merck has said it is prepared to offer Gardasil to GAVI
countries at a deeply discounted price of $5 per dose, meaning a
three-dose course would cost $15. GAVI has previously described
this as a "a good starting offer".
The pilot projects are designed to give countries a chance
to test whether they can put in place the systems needed to roll
out HPV vaccines nationally.
Unlike most other vaccines, which are given to babies and
children under age five, HPV vaccines are designed to be given
to girls aged nine to 13 in an effort to protect them before
they are likely to become sexually active.
One major challenge to effectively delivering HPV vaccines
is that many developing countries do not offer routine health
services for girls in this age group. But GAVI said initial
experience in offering HPV vaccines through schools in Africa,
Asia and Latin America had been encouraging.
By 2015, GAVI says it hopes to help more than 20 countries
immunise around a million girls with HPV vaccines through pilot
projects, and by 2020 it hopes to have helped more than 30
million girls in over 40 countries to get the vaccine.