Govt to focus on vaccination against cervical cancer, announces Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lays down government’s plans for the health sector in the 2024 Interim Budget.

February 01, 2024 12:08 pm | Updated February 02, 2024 06:05 pm IST

File photo of an HPV vaccination drive in Visakhapatnam. The vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer is administered for girls aged 9 to 14 years.

File photo of an HPV vaccination drive in Visakhapatnam. The vaccine for prevention of cervical cancer is administered for girls aged 9 to 14 years. | Photo Credit: V RAJU

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1 announced the government’s plans to focus on vaccination against cervical cancer for girls aged 9 to 14 as part of her Interim Budget 2024. The Finance Minister also announced multiple other health-related schemes in her speech, including extending Ayushman Bharat cover to all Asha workers and Anganwadi workers and helpers.

Ms. Sitharaman presented the last Budget of Narendra Modi’s government before the general elections, and it contained a mix of measures for the economy and electorally significant segments like farmers and women. She also used the platform to recount the schemes undertaken by the Modi government in the past decade as a pitch for the upcoming elections. The Budget has been touted as a roadmap to “vikshit Bharat”, or developed India, by 2047.

Interim Budget 2024 LIVE Coverage : Nirmala Sitharaman presents Budget

Cervical cancer, which develops in a woman’s cervix, is the second-most common cancer among women in India. It is caused by persistent infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV). India accounts for nearly a quarter of all cervical cancer deaths in the world.

The Union Health Ministry had last month said that it is closely monitoring incidences of cervical cancer in the country and is in regular touch with states and various health departments on this.

In June 2022, based on fresh evidence on disease burden, evidence on effectiveness of single dose of HPV vaccine, clinical trial data and experience of the Sikkim government on the introduction of the vaccine, the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization recommended the introduction of HPV vaccine in the universal immunisation with “a one-time catch-up for 9-14 year-old adolescent girls followed with routine introduction at nine years”, the Rajya Sabha was told in March.

Presently, the Serum Institute’s made-in-India vaccine against cervical cancer, CERVAVAC, is available in the private market for about Rs 2,000 per dose. MSD Pharmaceuticals Pvt Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Merck Sharp and Dohme (known as Merck and Co, Inc in the US and Canada) continues to sell its HPV vaccine Gardasil 4 (quadrivalent vaccine) in India which is currently priced at Rs 3,927 per dose.

The Finance Minister announced that the government will focus on setting up more medical colleges by utilising existing hospital infrastructure in the country. A committee will be set up to make relevant recommendations, she said.

Schemes under maternal and child health care will be brought under one comprehensive programme, Ms. Sitharaman announced. She also announced an upgradation of Anganwadi centres and expedited nutrition delivery and other steps for early childhood care.

The U-WIN platform for managing immunisations will be rolled out in the country, Ms. Sitharaman said.

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