- POSTED: 09 Oct 2013 18:24
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Laos has become the first Southeast Asian country to introduce a vaccine to combat cervical cancer for free, thanks to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Inoculations.
VIENTIANE, Laos: Laos has become the first Southeast Asian country to introduce a vaccine to combat cervical cancer for free, thanks to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Inoculations (GAVI).
Cervical cancer largely affects women under the age of 45, and is the third-most prevalent cancer among women in the world.
A joint venture between GAVI and the Laos government is combating the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world.
Schoolgirls are being given the vaccine for human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can later lead to cervical cancer.
Right now, the free vaccine is available on a trial basis. Laos, along with GAVI's support, is the first country in Asia to provide it.
The world's poorest countries apply for GAVI funding, but they themselves draft a plan and request for the specific vaccines needed.
They also pay for part of each dose.
In this case, Laos pays 20 cents for every dose of HPV vaccine, which costs US$4.50.
Three doses are needed to prevent the disease.
GAVI underwrites the rest of the cost and helps with the logistics and outreach.
Helen Evans, deputy CEO of GAVI Alliance, said: "It is incredibly important because these vaccines can save lives. They can save many lives and prevention is much better than cure.
"It is an investment in children's future and they are particularly important in countries like Laos and the other 16 countries that we work in the Asia Pacific region, because many of these countries have quite weak health systems. They have got quite limited treatment and care."
About 500 women get cervical cancer each year in Laos - a sizable number when compared to its population of 6.6 million.
And 50 per cent of those women will die.
The lack of health services inhibits early detection.
Poor families also struggle to pay for treatment, which is very costly.
Chansouk Phrommasorn, a cervical cancer patient, said: "I had an operation to get rid of cancer. I would like to stress that women especially, those in their 40s and 50s, should get a check-up, and if possible, get the vaccine so they can't get cervical cancer."
Chansouk Phrommasorn is one of the lucky ones - her cancer was caught before it went to Stage Two.
More Laotian women are struck with cervical cancer than even breast or liver cancer.
Even the head of the vaccine programme in Laos has had personal experience with the disease.
Dr Anonh Xeuatvonsa, manager of the Extended Programme on Immunisation at the Laos Health Ministry, said: "In my family... three relatives (have) died because of cervical cancer and I understand how difficult or how hard life is when seeking treatment - travelling from this hospital to another hospital, from this doctor to another doctor."
This vaccine trial will take two years to complete, and depending on the feedback, a countrywide rollout could be in the works.
And perhaps with that, the disease can be prevented in the next generation.