Funds crunch pushes back HPV vaccine purchaseHuman papillomavirus causes cervical cancer and is a major cause of deaths among women in Nepal, doctors say.
Plans to launch a vaccination drive against human papillomavirus in nine districts of the country from the ongoing fiscal year have been halted indefinitely, as the Ministry of Health and Population lacks funds to purchase the vaccine doses.
Doctors say human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer and is a major cause of deaths among women in Nepal.
“We do not have the budget to purchase the vaccine against human papillomavirus so we have been unable to include it in the regular immunisation list,” Dr Bibek Kumar Lal, director at the Family Welfare Division, told the Post.
An official at the Health Ministry said that HPV vaccination was also mentioned in the government’s policy and programme of the ongoing fiscal year but the budget was not allocated accordingly.
“Only Rs1 million has been allocated for the programme, which is insufficient to purchase the vaccine,” said an official at the Health Ministry asking not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “Over Rs10 million is needed to run the vaccination programme in the nine districts.”
Human papillomavirus is a viral infection that spreads through skin contact. The World Health Organisation says HPV vaccination is recommended as part of a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to prevent cervical cancer and other diseases caused by HPV.
Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Maldives have introduced HPV vaccines nationally, while India and Indonesia have introduced it in some districts.
Nepal in 2016 piloted HPV vaccine in Chitwan and Kaski districts. All girls aged between 11 and 13 years were inoculated with two doses of the HPV vaccine as part of their regular immunisation programme that the government conducts throughout the year.
In 2019, the Health Ministry had allocated Rs77.7 million—Rs27.5 million to the immunisation section and Rs50 million to the BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital in Bharatpur—to introduce the vaccine.
“Halting the HPV vaccination campaign is not a good sign, as the programme saves the lives of hundreds of women in our country,” said Dr Jhalak Sharma, former chief of the National Immunisation Programme. “Authorities concerned could have instead halted other less crucial programmes.”
Doctors say most cervical cancers are associated with human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection. Widespread immunisation with the HPV vaccine could reduce the impact of cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV worldwide.
“We can save the lives of hundreds of women every year if we administer the HPV vaccine to all young girls,” Dr Jageshwor Gautam, a consultant gynaecologist, told the Post. “This type of programme should not be delayed in any pretext.”
Meanwhile, officials at the Health Ministry say they are planning to request the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI) to help them include the HPV vaccine in the regular immunisation list.
“We have held several rounds of discussion and we are also planning to request the GAVI soon for help to include HPV vaccine in our regular immunisation list,” said Lal, director at the Family Welfare Division.
It is estimated that hundreds of women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year in Nepal.
According to BP Koirala Memorial Cancer Hospital in Bharatpur, over 700 women suffering from cervical cancer seek treatment at the hospital every year.
“We can save hundreds of women from dying if we immunise our girls with the HPV vaccine,”said Dr Bhola Rijal, a consultant gynaecologist. “Many countries that have included HPV vaccine in the regular immunisation list have successfully reduced cervical cancer in women.”
The government provides free screening for cervical cancer from state-run health facilities across the country.
Rijal said that if the government ensures the vaccine for all girls, private sectors are ready to help in the early diagnosis of cervical cancer in women.
The World Health Organisation says HPV is responsible for over 70 percent of cervical cancer in women. Cervical cancer also happens to be the second most common cancer in the developing world. Early treatment prevents up to 80 percent of cervical cancer.