Cervical cancer vaccine, Still too high for Africa (40005)

May 14 (GIN) – A major price cut goes into effect for a vaccine against cervical cancer. But the discount has run into criticism from health activists who say the costs for Africa are still “unjustifiably high.”

Doctors Without Borders/Medecins San Frontieres (MSF) said the Global Alliance for Vaccines (GAVI), which funds vaccine programs in the world’s poorest countries, had received a bad deal from the makers of Gardasil and Cervarix – Merck and GlaxoSmithKline respectively.

The drugs are used to prevent cervical cancer, of which 85 per cent of 275,000 deaths annually occur in the developing world.

“It will still cost nearly $14 to fully protect a girl with the cancer virus — a price that is too high for the world’s poorest countries,” said Kate Elder, a Philadelphia native and a vaccines policy specialist at MSF.

“Why are the pharmaceutical companies still making profits off the backs of the poorest countries?” Elder asked. “HPV vaccines were developed with taxpayer money, largely from the National Institutes of Health, and Glaxo and Merck have already reaped billions in profits. “

Seth Berkley of GAVI, however, called the discount “a transformational moment” for the health of women and girls across the world. “By 2020 we hope to reach more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries,” he said. “We thank the manufacturers for working with us to help make this happen.”

The GAVI project will begin “demonstration projects” for girls 9 to 13 years of age, starting in Kenya as early as this month. After that, it will begin in Ghana, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

Gardasil and Cervarix can cost more than $100 in western countries. They’ve been introduced in immunization campaigns in the U.S. and Europe in recent years.

UNICEF will administer the program.