Agency has managed to secure a single dose for $4.50, as against market price of $130

It is expected that the new low price secured for the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine will facilitate wider deployment of the vaccine against cervical cancer.

GAVI Alliance, an international agency funded by several governments and international partners, has managed to secure a single dose for $4.50, as against its price in the market for $130. “This is about three per cent of the original price,” says Seth Berkley, CEO, GAVI Alliance. “It is important to look at the cost-effectiveness of a vaccine. We realise that even this price might be high for some nations, but we are just beginning the rollout. As we increase the volume of purchase, the costs are likely to go down further and we will see a better price point.”

The cervix is the mouth of the uterus, and plays host to different types of cancers. It is known that 13 different types of the HPV can cause cervical cancer, while two strains, 16 and 18, are most common and virulent.

Speaking to The Hindu over VOIP on Thursday, Dr. Berkley insisted that this would open up the possibility of taking the vaccine to benefit girls in several developing countries. About 2,75,000 women die of cervical cancer every year and 85 per cent of them are in developing countries or low-income countries, where fewer women have access to screening and treatment. “By 2020 we hope to reach more than 30 million girls in more than 40 countries. This is a transformational moment for the health of women and girls across the world.

However, participation will be entirely voluntary on the part of nations, Dr. Berkley added. GAVI has invited countries to demonstrate their ability to roll out the vaccine, apply for a demo project, and show success (ensure immunisation of all girls in a district, say within a two-year period. If the nation is able to achieve this, then GAVI will assist them in scaling up the rollout.

“At the moment, in India, there is no public sector provision of the HPV vaccine, but we have heard that at least one Indian company is working on such a vaccine,” he adds. India would have to find its own protocols to successfully cover the target group with the vaccine. So far, India has not applied to be part of the project, though the response from other nations has been quite robust. India’s hesitation to join in might come from a rather bitter experience when a HPV vaccine trial was halted a couple of years ago in Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat when reports of death and complications came in. The steep price of the vaccine has also ensured that it has remained in the private sector.

One dose of the vaccine costs about Rs. 2,500 in the market, and three doses are to be given, explains a gynaecologist who trains institutions on cervical cancer screening. “Unless it enters the public sector and is provided by the government, we are going to continue to lose people. Doctors in the government sector see the worst form of disease, she adds. It is again estimated that cervical cancer causes 72,000 deaths every year in India and there are over 1.3 lakh new cases every year.

Nirmala Jayashankar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Apollo Hospitals, says, “Cervical cancer is completely preventable. Therefore, it is very sad to see a woman come in with an advanced stage of this cancer. Again, from experience we know that the people who cannot afford the vaccine probably need it the most.”