by Murray Proctor, in Lao PDR
On Wednesday we saw compelling evidence of the need for the HPV vaccine in Laos.
The Sethathiraj Hospital hosted a visit by 6 Australian members of parliament to discuss cancer treatment in Laos. The hospital treats many women for cervical cancer, often presenting at late stages.
Those in remote rural areas have little access to diagnosis in the early stages and need to travel a long way to the capital for therapy. And while medical attention is provided free of charge by the government, the necessary drugs can cost more than poor villagers can afford.
The MPs from Australia heard from specialists who struggle to deal with the numbers of patients presenting with advanced tumours. This reinforced the need for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to be provided across Laos, despite the remoteness of many groups and the high cost of reaching them. (Laos is like a long thin PNG with many mountains through the middle).
Gavi is helping Laos roll out a trial HPV vaccination program. The vaccine can avoid many cases of cervical cancer, and women in rural areas will have a greater chance of a healthy life after they receive it. But implementation is hard – girls need to receive 3 shots starting before puberty. Access is therefore vital through schools and rural health workers.
This HPV trial is underway in urban areas, and will hopefully spread to the rest of the country soon. Laos is determined to increase its spending on health. But the Gavi assistance with low cost vaccines and funding to assist the health system* is crucial now, to get the vaccines rolled out to those in need.
The HPV vaccine is famous of course for being developed at the University of Queensland. The members of parliament also saw other Australian developments that help Laos. Many of the specialists we met had undertaken advanced medical studies through DFAT scholarships.
In particular we also saw a new film on the work of Interplast in Laos. This was impressive and heart rending. Interplast helps not just in craniofacial reconstructions, but now increasingly deals with the results of burns that cripple people and take away their ability to earn a living and care for their children.
*Gavi support for the Lao health system provides $600,000 per year. A large part of this grant is used to strengthen institutional facilities, including deliveries, in five low performing districts. Both outdoor and indoor attendance has gone up in these districts, also creating a platform for timely delivery of the birth dose for Hepatitis B vaccine.”
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, partners from the Global Poverty Project and the Pacific Friends of the Global Fund, and a media team from Channel 9. Check back for daily updates from the delegation.