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Homegrown solution to India’s cervical cancer dilemma

Mar 26,2024

New Delhi: It’s an almost entirely preventable disease but cervical cancer kills one woman in India every seven minutes. That represents 21 per cent of global cervical cancer deaths, and makes it the second most common cancer in Indian women with 1,25,000 women being diagnosed and over 75,000 dying from the disease in India each year.

Vaccinating people against the human papillomavirus or HPV which causes the vast majority of cervical cancer cases is a highly effective way of preventing the disease.

HPV vaccines were first introduced in 2006 in the United States, and Australia became the first country to roll out a national vaccination programme the following year.

But until recently, the cost of the vaccines – as much as Rs 4,000 for a single dose with usually at least two doses required – has put preventing cervical cancer this way out of reach of most low- and middle-income countries across the world, including India.

Launched in September 2022, India’s first indigenously developed quadrivalent HPV vaccine, Cervavac, has the potential to improve access to vaccines and revolutionise cervical cancer prevention in these countries.

Developed by the Serum Institute of India, one of the largest vaccine producers in the world, it’s currently priced at half of the cost of its competitors Merck & Co’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline ‘s Cervarix at Rs 2,000 per dose with plans announced to produce 200 million doses.

But as production is scaled up, the Institute hopes to be able to make a dose of Cervavac available to the public at a price of between Rs 200-400 in the near future.

The vaccine alliance Gavi signed a new three-year partnership with the Indian government in February 2023, with the aim to extend life-saving vaccines to millions of children nationwide, including helping the country introduce the HPV vaccine into India’s national immunisation regimen.

And in February 2024, the government announced the vaccine would be part of the Universal Immunisation Programme, following endorsement from the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation.

During her recent interim budget speech for 2024-25, Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman emphasised the government’s commitment to actively “encourage” vaccination as a proactive measure against cervical cancer – a significant announcement for women’s health in India.

It hasn’t only been affordability that has hindered the widespread adoption of HPV vaccines in India.

Source: Healthworld

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