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The Price of Preventing Cervical Cancer

Kenya cervical cancer vaccinations


Cervical cancer vaccines for the developing world will cost $4.50 a dose, says the Gavi Alliance. That is $13.50 per young woman, because each needs three shots. It is a small price to pay for preventing a disease that is a scourge of Africa and Asia – but the bill for immunising whole populations of schoolgirls will be huge.

The price has been agreed between the Gavi Alliance – which channels money into vaccine programmes in poor countries – and the two major pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the HPV vaccine. They are Merck, which makes Gardasil, and GlaxoSmithKline, which makes Cervarix. The prices are a substantial discount on the cost to rich countries such as the US, France and the UK, where immunisation programmes are in full swing. But critics say they should be lower, to make the money for vital child immunisation in poor countries go a lot further.

The chief critics are Médecins sans Frontières, whose volunteer doctors are themselves involved in immunisation programmes in some of the remotest corners of the globe. This is the reaction of Kate Elder, vaccines policy adviser at the MSF access campaign:

It’s really disappointing that pharmaceutical companies haven’t offered Gavi a much better deal on the HPV vaccine. This vaccine is critical for millions of girls in developing countries, where cervical cancer is the main cause of cancer deaths among women. The price is unjustifiably high and will add to the already spiraling vaccination costs faced by low-income countries.

While this deal is a reduction from the prices paid by developed countries, it will still cost nearly $14 to fully protect a girl against HPV – a price that is too high for the world’s poorest countries. This adds more than 35% to the cost of the basic package of vaccines for girls and young women.

Merck made a staggering $1.63bn and GSK more than $416m off their HPV vaccines in just 2012 alone. It’s appalling to see these companies seeking to maximise their profits on the backs of developing countries by charging such a high price for this vital vaccine. It’s a lost opportunity to negotiate for a truly low price.

Gavi, however, points out that the previous lowest public sector price for HPV vaccine was $13 per dose – so $39 for a course. And it talks of the pressing need for the vaccines in the developing world, where 85% of the 275,000 deaths from the disease each year occur. The first countries to get the vaccine will be Kenya, Ghana, Laos, Madagascar, Malawi, Niger, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.

My opinion is this: Africans need to invest in healthcare and their own development. Vaccine production at the end of the day is a business and we need to stop waiting for aid from organistions and governments to survive. Investment in Science and clinical research by governments of African countries is a must. There are so many brilliant African Scientists in the West that get funded by reputable organisations like the wellcome trust and the gates foundation, so clearly, intellectual  ability has never been the problem but funding has. Every other month i see Forbes list of the richest Africans and i wonder why philanthropy in research and development has never been their top priority. Until Africans decide to solve their own problems, not a lot will change.


Reference: Sarah Boseley

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