Colombia Fails to Include HPV Vaccine in Public Health System

Angela Castellanos

In Colombia, a bill that would introduce the vaccine into Bogotá's public health care system has just failed for the third time.

The government of Panama approved
the free distribution of the HPV vaccine to all 10-year-old girls, but in Colombia, a bill that would
introduce the vaccine into the public health care system of Bogotá has
just failed for the third time. 

Last October, Panama announced
the historic decision, the first county in Latin America
to approve a free distribution of the HPV vaccine. The vaccination campaign has already begun with the Cervarix vaccine, produced by the Belgian company

In Latin America and the Caribbean,
33,000 women die each year as a result of cervical cancer, a disease
caused by the Human Papilloma Virus. HPV infects 20% of women and men
in this region, and up to 30% of young women 15-24 years old. This data
was revealed in a comprehensive report on the impact of the virus in
the Americas, researched by the Pan-American
Health Organization
and the Sabin
Vaccine Institute
, among
other relevant health organizations.

To achieve such massive vaccination,
Panama is investing USD 5.6 million, according to EFE. The vaccine’s cost has been
the major obstacle faced by the local bills of Bogotá. Three local
bills have been submitted to the Concejo (the legislative body of Bogotá).
The most recent bill proposed the free or low cost distribution of the
vaccine by the public health care system to
girls from 9 to 26 years old. However, the Secretaría Distrital de
(the local executive
body in charge of health care), declared that this vaccine will not part
of the Plan Obligatorio de Salud (Mandatory Health Package).

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In Bogotá, cervical cancer has become
the second cause of deaths by cancer, after breast cancer, for
aged 30 to 59.

The 2005 National Population and Health
Survey (ENDS), the most rigorous research available in sexual and reproductive
health, showed that the cervical cancer death rate in Colombia had increased
from 54% in 1995 to 69% in 2000, among women aged 40 to 69. The survey
was conducted by Profamilia, a private, non-profit health provider. It
also revealed that among 20 to 49 year old women this rate had increased
from 34% to 37% in the same period.

Martha Velandia, the Coordinator of
the Plan Ampliado de Inmunización (Enhanced Plan to Immunize of Bogotá)
stated that "the ideal scenario would be the free distribution of
all vaccines, but that is not possible because we have limited funds." 

On average, Colombia includes a new
vaccine in this Plan every two years. Currently there are other vaccines
in the waiting list, starting with the one against influenza. The three
shots of the vaccine against the HPV could represent 1,050,000 pesos
(USD 500) per woman, added Velandia. 

Early this year, the government health
agency INVIMA authorized the Gardasil vaccine. 

It is ironic that in Colombia
the vaccine is still out of the public health system while behind the
vaccine there is a Colombian scientist. In fact, Nubia Muñoz Calero,
physician and pathologist, is member of the committee of scientists
in charge of supervising the Gardasil’s clinic tests, and was nominated
for the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine 2008.  Recall that
Prof. Harold zur Hausen, a German virologist, received the award for
his studies in the same field: the links between human papilloma virus
and cervical cancer.

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