GAVI to support HPV vaccination of 30 million girls by 2020

The GAVI Alliance will help to protect more than 30 million girls against human papillomavirus and cervical cancer by 2020, the organization's CEO said on Thursday.

Seth Berkley made the statement at the Women Deliver 2013 conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. With GAVI's support, the vaccination campaigns in more than 40 countries could prevent more than half a million deaths.

GAVI will also support a vaccine against rubella, a disease that can cause stillbirth, miscarriage and severe birth defects. The measles-rubella vaccine will be introduced in 49 countries by 2020 to immunize more than 700 million children under the age of 15.

"Protecting the health of girls, women and infants is central to GAVI's mission," Berkley said. "Our new investments in HPV and rubella vaccines will ensure that all girls can be protected against cervical cancer and babies can be protected from rubella no matter where they are born. Our ultimate goal is to ensure that girls all over the world have access to the full immunization package of vaccines against 12 life-threatening diseases."

Cervical cancer, which is caused by HPV, is the leading cancer killer of women in many African countries and in the 56 countries eligible for GAVI support. Many developing countries lack access to cancer screening and treatment, making the HPV vaccines the best protection against cervical cancer.

Rubella causes more than 100,000 birth defects annually including deafness, heart defects and blindness. While the vaccine has been available since the 1970s, it is underutilized in some regions like South Asia and Africa.