Sub-Saharan Africa shows support for HPV vaccine

The vaccine for human papilloma virus is being embraced by sub-Saharan Africa, with approximately 70 percent of girls at the University of Pretoria choosing to be vaccinated against cervical cancer.

The vaccine flourished in part because of endorsements by politicians and high-profile celebrities, including the first ladies of Zambia and Tanzania and Vanessa Mdee, a popular Tanzanian MTV host, reports.

Hennie Botha, the head of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, said that cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women in South Africa. More than 50,000 women die from the disease annually in Africa, according to the World Health Organization.

"Many people will know someone with cervical cancer," Botha said, according to "Women are diagnosed late because there is no screening or very poor screening. The vaccine is seen as the best chance we have to make the difference."

In December, Tanzania launched a pilot run of the HPV vaccine supported by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization. The program is targeting more than 30 million girls.

Vivien Tsu, an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, said that the success of the HPV vaccine in Africa is being watched closely by scientists who see it as a model for future adolescent vaccine programs.

"This was the first time a vaccine in this age group was coming out, and they thought there could be some lessons for them," Tsu said, according to "Many people are saying we've neglected adolescents. This is a good time to start building more of a program for them."

The vaccine's success in Africa is in stark contrast to the resistance to the vaccine from parents in the U.S. and Canada. Original branding of the first HPV vaccine, Gardasil, focused on preventing diseases contracted from unprotected sex. This put off conservatives who pushed abstinence-only policies and opposed the vaccine, reports.