February 4 is World Cancer Day and the theme is “Cancer can be prevented too.” There is a new generation of vaccines that can help supplement behavior change and environmental efforts.
In 1971 President Nixon declared war on cancer, yet families across America, and the world, continue to suffer casualties. This week President Obama requested $6 billion for the National Institutes of Health to launch 30 new drug trials and to ramp up cancer research to have twice as many drugs and vaccines in clinical trials by 2016. But will these efforts benefit children in low-income countries?
Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection. Transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids, Hepatitis B can lead to liver cancer. Death is swift once the liver fails to function, usually within 24 to 48 hours. In the US, 5,000 people die from Hepatitis B each year and 100,000 become infected. Tragic, yet these numbers are dwarfed by the dimensions of the problem elsewhere. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, 260 million people are infected.
Yet this disease can be prevented. Newborns receiving a Hepatitis B immunization within the first 12 hours of life have a 95 percent chance of lifelong protection.
That is why immunizing infants against Hepatitis B is a top priority for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Since 2000, more than 233 million children in the poorest communities have been vaccinated against Hepatitis B, with GAVI’s help.
Roll out of Hepatitis B vaccine in poor countries is a great success story for cancer prevention and control. But the job is not done.
The HPV Challenge
Every two minutes a woman dies of cervical cancer -even though almost every case is preventable through a program of screening, treatment, and vaccination against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
In India alone, about 70,000 women die every year. In Africa, more than 250 million girls and women aged 15 years and older are at risk for developing the disease. Of the 80,000 African women diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, nearly 80 percent will die of it.
Making the HPV vaccine available to girls in the world’s poorest countries will save lives and improve women’s health in places where health care is limited or non-existent.
Nina Schwalbe is Managing Director for Policy and Performance at GAVI in Geneva.
Nina has spent 20 years in public health. Prior to joining GAVI in 2008, Nina directed the policy department at the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development, a product development partnership focused on medicines for tuberculosis. She directed the Soros Foundation’s global public health program supporting, among other projects, initiatives in harm reduction, tobacco control, and palliative care.