The GAVI Alliance Board is to move towards the vaccination of up to two million girls and women in nine countries against HPV (human papillomavirus) and rubella over the next four years. GAVI is a charity which aims to save children’s lives and protect people’s health “by increasing access to immunization in poor countries”.

GAVI’s Board members said that if a realistically sustainable price can be successfully reached with vaccine makers, and the targeted developing nations can show they are able to deliver the vaccines, approximately two million females could be protected from cervical cancer within the next four years.

Rwanda and Vietnam are probably going to be the first countries to vaccinate their girls and women, because they have carried out pilot vaccination programs. The other seven countries will be announced soon.

GAVI has also opened funding for vaccines against the rubella virus, after being urged by WHO (World Health Organization) and thirty nations. They hope that 588 children could be vaccinated by 2015. The rubella virus causes Rubella, also known as German measles, an infectious disease which can significantly increase the risk of birth defects if a pregnant mother becomes infected within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The child may be born with congenital rubella syndrome, which costs of a series of serious incurable diseases. Experts say that about 20% of pregnant mothers with rubella will miscarry.

A woman receiving rubella vaccine, Brazil, 2008

Seth Berkley MD, CEO of GAVI, which supports seven other vaccines, said:

“These two initiatives have huge potential impact for women and families in the developing world.

The HPV vaccine is critical to women and girls in poorer countries because they usually do not have access to screening to prevent cervical cancer and treatment taken for granted in richer nations. Today, we have taken deliberate first steps to correct this inequity.”

As soon as WHO prequalifies an appropriate vaccine, the GAVI Board said it would also consider providing funding towards a vaccine against Japanese encephalitis. A suitable conjugate vaccine against typhoid would also be considered.

During the two-day Board meeting, which took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, members reviewed how the roll out of rotavirus and pneumococcal vaccines were progressing. They approved a new strategy for supply and procurements, and discussed new way of potential results-based funding for countries where large numbers of children have not been vaccinated.

Dagfinn Høybråten, Chair of the GAVI Alliance Board, said:

“The decisions taken today will contribute to GAVI’s mission to save millions of lives and protect people’s health. We are helping countries accelerate access to life-saving vaccines and increasing the number of innovative ways to ensure the world’s children have equal access to immunisation.

It is estimated that HPV causes about 275,000 deaths from cervical cancer annually worldwide. 88% of these deaths occur in developing nations. If nothing is done, the figure could rise to 430,000 within the next twenty years.

HPV vaccines may prevent 70% of cervical cancer cases, which translates into many preventable deaths. HPV is also the cause of other rarer cancers in both sexes.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged GAVI, countries and organizations to..:

“. . . deliver the promise of a future free from the threat of cervical cancer to millions of young women thanks to the HPV vaccine.

Investing in their health and their future is the best investment we can make.”

A year ago, Mr Ban launched his Every Women Every Child strategy. GAVI said it would support this strategy with vaccines, including those for HPV and rubella ones.

The vaccines which GAVI is funding to protect from rubella will come in single measles-rubella (MR) injections, in support the global measles immunization drive. Approximately 90,000 birth defects (80% of global burden) occur annually in countries that are eligible for GAVI support.

Since it was created in 2000, approximately 325 million children have been vaccinated thanks to GAVI support, preventing over 5.5 million deaths.