On the first International Day of the Girl Child, ISGlobal would like to draw attention to a health problem that affects the world's most vulnerable women and girls: cervical cancer. Almost all cases of cervical cancer (99%) are associated with genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
The incidence of cervical cancer is increasingly concentrated in low and middle income countries, where almost 90% of cases and deaths occur. We are talking about 500,000 new cases and 275,000 deaths annually. By contrast, in the last three decades high-income countries have seen a substantial reduction (approximately 30%) in the incidence of this malignancy and associated mortality due to the implementation of early detection and treatment programmes.
In resource-limited settings where screening is not possible, the implementation of HPV vaccination programmes could prevent most future cases of cervical cancer. HPV vaccination is a powerful public health tool that should reach the most needy populations. The reduction in the price of preventive HPV vaccines in 2011 and the decision of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) to start introducing the vaccine in eligible countries are important steps in that direction.
The R&D community can and should play a role in this process by determining the best strategies for ensuring that the target group— girls aged 9 to 13 years—receive the vaccine. The fact that girls in this age group are no longer registered in routine vaccination programs represents a major challenge that must be addressed if we are to reduce gender inequities in health.