International conference in Montreal tackles HPV
Published Monday, July 5, 2010 7:10PM EDT
Hundreds of experts from dozens of countries are in Montreal for the 26th edition of the International Papillomavirus Conference, and they say their goal is to make vaccines for the human papillomavirus -- or HPV -- more accessible to girls and women from poorer nations.
The message on Monday was that vaccines such as Gardasil and Cervarix are going to protect a whole new generation of sexually active young women against HPV and cervical cancer -- but only in developed nations.
HPV is the most common sexually transmitted virus in the world, and usually results in benign warts. However, 15 percent of infections lead to cervical cancer.
In Canada, that translates to 350 new diagnoses each year, resulting in the deaths of 80 women.
New technology can help detect those pre-cancerous lesions immediately, but in many countries the battle against HPV hasn't even begun.
"In my own country there is no study about the prevalence of HPV, because we don't have the technology," said Dr. Ibrahima Teguete, an obstetrician/gynecologist from the western African country of Mali.
As a result, Teguete says 80 percent of women infected in Mali go without any treatment.
"People are going to die unjustly," he said.
The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), a public- private consortium, is hoping to help out by negotiating and securing affordable prices for a vaccine that the world's poorest nations can't afford.
"At this moment we are failing to get these methods to those people that need it the most," said Dr. Marc Steben of the Quebec Public Health Institute.
Vaccinating young girls
Public health experts generally accept that vaccines are key in the fight against HPV, and should be given to girls before they become sexually active.
Vaccination rates are still below 40 percent in the United States, but Gardasil is now being offered in many Canadian provinces. In Quebec, 80 percent of schoolgirls have accepted to be vaccinated.
Meanwhile, some have suggested the vaccine should also be made available to boys.