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PAHO Plans Response to New HPV Vaccine

Washington, D.C., August 19, 2005 (PAHO)—The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has launched a process to respond to the introduction – sometime in mid-2006 – of a vaccine to immunize against a virus associated with cervical cancer.

The virus is the human papilloma virus, or HPV. An HPV vaccine is now under development and according to Dr. Jon Andrus, chief of PAHO's Immunization Unit, the vaccine "will be available in middle of next year."

"These vaccines will be costly and will require hard-nosed negotiations," noted Dr. Merle Lewis, a public health specialist with PAHO's Immunization Unit.

Andrus and Lewis were among a number of PAHO officials and health specialists who met Friday at PAHO headquarters in Washington, D.C., to begin to work on a unified PAHO position and organizational response to the future introduction of these HPV vaccines against cervical cancer. A follow-up meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5.

According to a recent newsletter by PAHO's Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) in the Americas, "cervical cancer is the HPV infection sequel (or effect) of greatest public health importance."

PAHO has estimated that more than 37,600 deaths due to cervical cancer occur annually in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Another participant was Dr. María de los Angeles Cortes-Castillo, PAHO's regional advisor on vaccines development. She outlined what she considers PAHO's "major challenge" on the HPV vaccine issue:

"The presentation of new vaccines in the region is giving the opportunity to the national regulatory authorities (NRAs) for developing expertise and knowledge for the evaluation of these products."

And, she added, "it is PAHO's responsibility to support the countries for the achievement of the final objective: To guarantee the quality of the vaccines to be used in Latin American countries."

Lewis referred in her presentation to the meeting to the "super goal," "goal" and "purpose" of a plan for the introduction of the HPC vaccines to the Americas. They are:

  • "Super Goal: To improve family health in Latin America and the Caribbean through the introduction and application of HPV vaccines.
  • "Goal: To reduce the burden of cervical cancer and (perhaps) genital warts in Latin America and the Caribbean through the introduction and application of HPV vaccines.
  • "Purpose: To strengthen the capacity of member states to plan, deliver and sustain equitable, safe and high-quality HPV vaccination programs."

Lewis said that given the probable high costs of such vaccines, it will be necessary to develop "relevant cost profiles and analyses . . . to justify budget considerations."

Human papilloma viruses (HPV) are extremely common sexually transmitted infections. In more than 90% of cases, the infections are harmless and go away without treatment.

However, according to a report by the National Cancer Institute on clinical trial results, certain types of HPV, such as HPV-16, increase women's risk for cervical cancer -- cancer of the cervix or the neck of the womb. The National Cancer Institute is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

The same report noted that although the vast majority of HPV infections do not progress to cervical cancer, the rare instance when HPV infection persists seems to be important to the development of the disease.

PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world's oldest public health organization. PAHO works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and the quality of life of people of the Americas. It serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).

PAHO Member States today include all 35 countries in the Americas. France, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are Participating States. Portugal and Spain are Observer States, and Puerto Rico is an Associate Member.

For more information please contact , PAHO, Public Information, 202-974-3699.