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Rwanda Launches Africa’s First Nationwide Cervical Cancer Vaccination, Detection Program

Rwandan First Lady Jeannette Kagame on Tuesday, in collaboration with two companies, launched a national cervical cancer vaccination and screening program, the first of its kind in Africa, the New Times reports.

The companies, pharmaceutical firm Merck and diagnostics manufacturer Qiagen, will provide supplies to vaccinate against and detect human papillomavirus (HPV) among the nation’s 2.7 million women ages 15 and older, who are most likely to become infected with the virus. HPV can cause cervical cancer, which is the leading type of cancer among women in Rwanda, according to the New Times (Kagire, 4/26).

Under the three-year deal, Merck will provide two million doses of its HPV vaccine Gardasil for women between 12 and 15 years old, and Qiagen will donate 250,000 DNA-based HPV screening tests for women ages 35 to 45, Science’s “Science Insider” blog reports.  After three years, the companies will provide the products to Rwanda at reduced prices “that have yet to be revealed,” and donors likely will help pay for the program to continue, according to the news service (Enserink, 4/25).

“It is our goal to create a comprehensive, coordinated program that includes HPV vaccination, cancer screening with HPV DNA testing, and treatment in order to address the nation’s unmet needs for cervical cancer-related health services. This vaccination and screening program brings us one step closer to reaching our goal of protecting the girls and women in our country,” Richard Sezibera, Rwanda’s minister of health, said, according to a Merck press release (4/25).

Cervical cancer kills about 275,000 women worldwide annually, primarily in developing countries. By 2030, the number of cervical cancer deaths is expected to rise to 474,000, with 95% of those deaths occurring in developing countries, the Guardian’s “Global Health Blog” reports (Boseley, 4/25). 

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