One year on, HPV vaccines protecting Lao girls

Murray Proctor, RESULTS Australia, Michael Sheldrick, The Global Poverty Project and Senator Janet Rice

RESULTS Australia’s Global Health Consultant, Murray Proctor, is in Lao PDR on a Parliamentary delegation to explore what Australia’s aid program is achieving in terms of health outcomes in the country. With him are a number of Australian MPs and Senators, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) representatives and partners from the Global Poverty Project and the Pacific Friends of the Global Fund. This is his blog post from day one. Check back for daily updates from the delegation.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in Laos one year ago, almost to the day. This marked the introduction of Gavi-supported HPV vaccines to South East Asia, with the support of the Australian Government.

One year ago, a ceremonial vaccination of hundreds of girls in Vientiane kicked off a two year-long campaign to immunise 26,000 grade 5 girls in the Vientiane city and province. This program is a pilot project and if successful, will continue and expand to the whole country.

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This morning we witnessed another mass-vaccination at two schools in Vientiane. It was quite humbling to see a long line of girls waiting patiently for their (apparently quite painful!) jab, knowing that without Gavi and the Australian Government’s support, this vaccine would not be available. The HPV vaccine prevents about 70% of cervical cancer and is a vital tool to keep women and girls healthy in a country where routine screening for cervical cancer does not exist, no registry of cancer patients is kept, and there is no radiotherapy for any cancer patient.

The HPV virus causes cervical cancer, which affects about 500 women a year in Laos, with about half of these women dying. More than 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries.

Gavi aims to reach 30 million women in more than 30 countries by 2020 with this life-saving vaccine, developed by Australian Professor Ian Frazer and his team at the University of Queensland.

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I certainly hope the pilot program is successful and the benefits of HPV vaccination can reach girls across Laos. With a generous Australian pledge to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in January, these benefits can be felt by women across the Asia-Pacific and beyond.

 

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