By Andrea Kirsten-Coleman
Immunizations are one of the success stories of modern life. The list of serious diseases that have been eradicated or prevented, or whose numbers vaccines have dramatically reduced, continues to grow — from the mumps to measles, from rubella to tetanus, from diphtheria to poliomyelitis.
What many people don’t realize is that an immunization can prevent most cervical cancer, too—the vaccine against the human papillomavirus (HPV).HPV causes virtually all cervical cancers. To prevent the future development of cervical cancer, HPV vaccine is given to girls between the ages of 9 and 13, in three doses, over a six-month period, through school- and community-based programs. Safe and effective HPV vaccines protect against the two types of the virus that causes about 70 percent of all cervical cancer. As we observe World Health Organization World Immunization Week, we are inspired by the work that Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partners and our partner countries in Africa are doing to prevent cervical cancer in girls, through HPV vaccinations. Thanks to our partnership with Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of Gardasil® and Cervarix®, respectively, we are investing in the future of thousands of girls in Zambia and Botswana. In 2013, in Botswana, 2,015 girls received all three doses of HPV vaccination, and 19,000 girls are targeted for the course of shots this year. Over 16,600 girls received all three doses of HPV vaccination in Zambia in 2013, and 25,000 more are expected to receive their immunizations in 2014. According to the GAVI Alliance, for every 1,000 girls who receive the HPV vaccine, 13 lives are saved. The small cost of $13, for three doses, equals a big investment in the future of young girls. When we save a girl from cancer in her future, we save a teacher, a nurse, a farmer, community leader, a businesswoman, a mother. In this new era of immunizations, we can reduce the number of women who develop getting cervical cancer by doing what we know works. Andrea Kirsten-Coleman is Program Manager, Communications, Development and Partner Outreach, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.