Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has pledged $142 million in additional funds to expand global coverage of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, increasing its total investment to $600 million by the end of 2025, the organization has announced. Gavi said it expects its new investment to help reach 86 million adolescent girls by 2025, preventing over 1.4 million future deaths from cervical cancer.
The pledge marks a renewed commitment to advance the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer approved by the World Health Assembly in 2020 – the first-ever global commitment to eradicate a cancer.
“[Vaccines] can prevent up to 90% of all cervical cancer cases,” Gavi said in its statement Thursday on the new initiative. “It is the key intervention towards achieving elimination of cervical cancer.”
While the HPV vaccine is readily available in Gavi’s portfolio, supply bottlenecks and pandemic era disruptions of routine immunization programmes have hamstrung global efforts to increase vaccine coverage, especially in low- and middle-income countries where access to screening and treatment is limited.
Over 100 million adolescent girls received at least one dose of the HPV vaccine between 2006 and 2017 – but 95% of them were in high-income countries, leading to a staggering nine in ten cervical cancer deaths occurring in low-and middle-income countries in that same period. Overall HPV vaccine coverage was just 12% by the end of 2021.
“There are still millions of adolescent girls at risk of contracting cervical cancer – a life-threatening yet vaccine-preventable disease that disproportionately kills women in lower-income countries,” said Aurélia Nguyen, chief programme strategy officer at Gavi. “Taking urgent action to ensure no girl is left behind is imperative from a gender and equity perspective.”
New push to assist countries to introduce the HPV vaccine into routine immunization
Over the next three years, the revitalized push by Gavi and partner organisations like the WHO and UNICEF will focus on providing assistance to primary health care systems to introduce the HPV vaccine into routine immunization schedules and helping to catch up on vaccinations missed during the COVID-19 pandemic. HPV vaccination rates, which rely heavily on delivery through schools, were hit particularly hard by the lockdowns caused by the pandemic.
The additional funding announced on Thursday includes $33 million for enchanced technical assistance for the planning and implementation of HPV vaccine integration into regular immunization schedules, $40 million for strengthening delivery of the HPV vaccine and strengthening health systems, and $69 million in cash support for new introductions. Key countries that will receive support in the coming year include Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Togo, and Zambian, Gavi said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have also hit hard and set back vital progress,” Nguyen said. “The HPV vaccine has amongst the highest impact of all Gavi-supported vaccines, saving millions of lives and helping to protect the future of adolescent girls across the world.”
Gavi’s financial commitment comes days after a powerful global coalition of global health institutions, including Gavi, announced a partnership to halt the global backsliding in childhood vaccination rates caused by COVID-19, which was criticized for not including any new funds to support its goals.