The health ministry wants to introduce human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in the universal immunisation programme at the earliest. The virus is believed to be responsible for most cervical cancer cases — more than 80 per cent, according to some estimates.
The ministry has asked the sub-committee of the technical advisory group, which recommends introduction of new vaccines in the programme, to look at the incidence of cervical cancer in India and take a call on the vaccine at the earliest.
After breast cancer, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in India. According to the national cancer registry data, 92,731 cases of cervical cancer were reported in India in 2013, a figure that is projected to go up to 1,00,479 in 2020 (source: National Cancer Profile).
India recently received $500 million aid from GAVI, an international vaccine alliance, for rolling out a range of vaccines, including HPV vaccine. The government wants to introduce the HPV vaccine, at least on a pilot basis, as soon as possible.
This is also because the plan to have a foolproof cancer screening programme, unde the National Programme for Prevention and Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke (NPCDCS), has not quite taken off, more than five years after it was started.
“We are keen to get HPV off the block at the earliest. Ordinarily, it is the sub-committee of the National Technical Advisory Group that looks at available data on a particular disease, and the projections of what happens with the introduction of the vaccine, to take a call on the introduction of a vaccine. The group then sends a recommendation to the government on the introduction of that vaccine. In this case, we have asked the sub-committee to look at the pros and cons of introduction of HPV vaccine and get back to us at the earliest,” said a source in the health ministry.
Three doses of the cervical cancer vaccine — two varieties are currently available in India — are essential for immunity to HPV. The cost of each dose, after negotiations between GAVI and vaccine manufacturers, has been reduced to less than $5.
With HPV covered in the GAVI support over the next five years, the Centre does not need to worry about the cost for now. This is the first time that GAVI is giving financial support to India, rather than the material support.
What is HPV?
# HPV is a group of 150 viruses, known to cause warts or papillomas. Some can cause cancer, particularly cervical cancer.
# HPV vaccine should be administered at 11-12 years of age. Catch-up vaccines are recommended for men at 21 and women at 26, if there was no vaccination earlier.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention