A Brisbane team are working closely with the Vanuatu Government to trial a program for effective delivery of cervical cancer vaccines to schoolgirls in resource-poor settings.
Headed by cervical cancer vaccine pioneer Professor Ian Frazer from UQ’s Diamantina Institute for Cancer, Immunology and Metabolic Medicine, the team is aiming to vaccinate and educate 1000 girls aged 10 to 12 years of age in Vanuatu this year.
"Having helped to develop the vaccine technology, I now feel a responsibility to help ensure that the vaccine gets where it’s most needed," Professor Frazer said.
Cervical cancer, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), kills around 270,000 women worldwide each year, and over 80% of those are from developing countries such as Vanuatu.
Cervical cancer is anecdotally very common in Vanuatu, with most patients presenting with a late-stage untreatable disease. Treatment options are limited to simple surgery in the capital Port Vila, and there is a desire from the country’s health ministry to develop cervical cancer prevention programs in the longer term.
The cervical cancer vaccines currently available protect women against about 70% of infections that cause cervical cancers.
The team travelled to Vanuatu in March to commence a pilot study after meeting with health officials and district nurses last year.
The cervical cancer vaccine, generously donated by GlaxoSmithKline, is being administered by a district nurse through school and community groups in rural villages and urban centres, with cervical cancer screening also being offered to their mothers, if over 30 years of age, as part of a separate program.
The vaccination program is being promoted in local newspapers and through radio programs. In addition, the girls are given a photo ID card with their first vaccine, and some are additionally given a coloured silicone wristband as a visible reminder to follow up with their second and third shots.
The study will help determine the efficacy of different strategies for reminding young girls to come back for their second and third doses, and will help the Vanuatu Health Ministry develop an effective program for cervical cancer control for Vanuatu. The results may also guide HPV vaccine introduction in other similar settings.
This study is assisted by donations from the Zonta Club of Brisbane and GlaxoSmithKline Australia, and support from the Vanuatu Ministry of Health.
(Source: University of Queensland: April 2009)