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Monday, January 2, 2012

Rwandans Welcome HPV Vaccine Program

One dose of the vaccine Gardasil, developed by Merck & Co. (AP)

Here in the U.S., the vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus, which can lead to cancer, has met some resistance. HPV is sexually transmitted, and some social conservatives warned that administering the HPV vaccine to young girls could encourage promiscuity.

The debate came to a head during a recent Republican debate when Rep. Michelle Bachmann criticized Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s 2007 mandate, later overturned by the Texas legislature, that all 6th grade girls get the vaccine. Bachmann said Perry’s mandate amounted to government overreach.

HPV Vaccine In Rwanda

Meanwhile, in Rwanda, a new program has administered the vaccine widely, without controversy.

Dr. Peter Drobac, director of the Rwanda Project for Partners in Health told Here & Now‘s Robin Young that the program was launched in April 2011, and between April and August, 96 percent of 11-year-old girls in Rwanda received the vaccine.

Drobac says that the vaccine program has been welcomed, even by the country’s Catholic clergy members, who took part in a public awareness campaign to teach Rwandans about the vaccine.

He says the only pushback against the program in Rwanda has been over the fact that it’s limited to 11-year-old-girls.

“The only resistance we faced was from older girls and young women who also wanted to receive the vaccine once they heard it could prevent cancer,” he said.

Drobac says that as Rwanda has been able to bring down the incidences of infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, the country is turning attention to fighting cervical cancer.

“Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in Rwanda,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young.

Partnership With Merck

The program was made possible because of a partnership that Rwanda entered into with the drug company Merck, which makes Gardisil, one of the two HPV vaccines.

“Merck agreed to provide enough doses to vaccinate every 11-year-old in Rwanda for three consecutive years, so those are being provided free of charge,” Drobac said.

The HPV vaccinations in Rwanda are not mandatory.

Guest:

  • Dr. Peter Drobac, director of the Rwanda Project for Partners in Health

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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