LONDON, United Kingdom — Cambodia introduced a single-dose vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in its national immunization framework in October 2023. The move has facilitated Cambodian girls aged 9 years and above to access protection against cervical cancer without cost. The government has collaborated with the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to roll out the vaccination through school and community outreach initiatives.
The Magnitude of the Crisis
Cervical cancer ranks as the second most common cancer among women in the Kingdom of Cambodia, one of South Asia’s poor economies. Annually, approximately 643 women in the country lose their lives to the disease. Dr. Will Parks, UNICEF Representative in Cambodia, has emphasized the importance of the vaccine for sound public health. He said, “Ensuring all eligible girls, especially those living in high-risk, urban poor, remote and rural communities and ethnic and migrant populations, have access to the HPV vaccine is critical for promoting health equity and safeguarding the well-being of every child in Cambodia.”
Globally, an estimated 570,000 cases were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2018. Though entirely preventable, inadequacy of medical infrastructures turns the infection into a death trap, especially in lower-middle income countries. Human Papillomavirus is often transmitted during sexual intercourse. Although the virus mostly remains benign and goes away on its own, lasting infections develop cancer in the female’s cervix. Immunization, early detection and palliative care are crucial to treat the illness.
Shortage in Supply
Twenty years after the invention of the HPV vaccine, a woman still dies of cervical cancer every two minutes. Globally, only one in eight girls have received a vaccination against human papillomavirus today. To combat the soaring public health crisis, WHO has launched a global strategy to vaccinate 90% of the world’s adolescent girls by 2030. It will potentially save the lives of 62 million women over the next century. But the primary hindrance is the shortage in supply. Since 2018, the demand for HPV vaccines has doubled worldwide. However, due to the complex manufacturing process of biological products, scaling up production takes longer for the manufacturers.
Single-Shot Jabs Open a New Horizon
A single-dose schedule provides comparable protection against cervical cancer to two and three-dose alternatives, the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) concluded in April 2022. The WHO Assistant Director-General, Dr. Princess Nothemba Simelela, has hailed the breakthrough for its potential to promote equality in vaccine access and address the shortage in supply. “It facilitates implementing catch-up campaigns for multiple age groups, reduces the challenges linked to tracing girls for their second dose and allows for financial and human resources to be redirected to other health priorities,” Simelela said. She believes the milestone will take the world to its goal of immunizing a generation against cervical cancer faster. By introducing the vaccine in its national immunization program, Cambodia has now joined an expanding cohort of 136 nations waging war against the fourth common cause of cancer-related death among women.
– Soham Mitra
Photo: Wikimedia Commons