Dr Seth Berkley, Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance, asks “how is it that Rwanda, among the world’s poorest countries – and still recovering from a brutal civil war – is able to protect its teenage girls against cancer more effectively than the G-8 countries?”. The answer is that Rwanda has vaccinated 93 percent of its teenager girls against HPV, the family of viruses that cause all cervical cancer, many cases of penile cancer in male sex partners and many cases of genital warts. By contrast, the US has vaccinated about a third of eligible girls. In parts of Europe, the figures are worse. This is particularly tragic because we know that the vaccines can prevent about 8 in 10 cases of cervical cancer.
Every vaccinated girl helps improve the health of the community as well as to protect herself, as we reported here over summer. Even though only a third of American girls had been vaccinated, infections there fell by over half.
In a powerful earlier op-ed piece, Seth Berkley talked about the way that Indian media and politicians had blocked HPV vaccines in India’s public sector and, conveniently ignored “context and fact to pursue their own agenda”
Seth can’t really explain the Rwandan success and our dismal performance in the industrialised countries. He runs through a few of the sillier myths that American and European parents sometimes indulge and notes the depressing truth that, “failure to reach the 80% coverage mark means that 50,000 American girls alive today will develop cervical cancer, as will another 4,400 girls with each year of delay.”