Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's time you take the lives of women more seriously

Recently the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) asked Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat to immediately suspend the cervical cancer control vaccination for girls. The programme is part of a two-year study to look into the utility of a vaccine in public health programmes and acceptability of Gardasil, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine made by Merck. The programme was marred by controversy after four deaths and complications among 120 girls were reported after vaccination. The girls complained of stomach disorders, epilepsy, headaches and early menarche. Women activists fear the vaccine may impact the mental health of girls who have shown no signs of distress so far.

While officials said that suspension of the trails was just a precautionary measure and not an endorsement that it caused complications and death in a few; CPM leader Brinda Karat has attacked the organisations involved with carrying out these trials. She has alleged that scientific, logical and ethical guidelines have been violated at each step of the drug and vaccine trials.

Health ministry sources said the vaccination programme is being conducted by Gardasil, jointly with PATH, a Seattle-based NGO, ICMR and the two state governments. About 32,000 girls, aged 10-14, were to be tested in the study.

Though this issue has sparked off a major debate, what amuses me is the fact that no emphasis whatsoever has been laid on the importance of screening. The vaccine costs around Rs. 9000 (including all the 3 shots) and it has been recommended for women between 11-26 years of age and it would be effective only if it administered before the sexual debut of women.

Now how many people can afford Rs. 9000 for a vaccine? What about women in the rural areas where rates of cervical cancer are so high? The vaccine is sure out-of-question for them! First is the price and secondly, its availability. Also, the onset of sexual activity today is quite early. So how many women would actually benefit from this vaccine is still to be proven and especially after this whole incidence, I guess we just have to wait and watch.

While the authorities go on debating about who is on the wrong side and who is on the right, I only wish they could spend some time and energy on coming up with solutions to make screening facilities available even in far-flung rural areas. It is high time the government take the lives of women more seriously!

Contributed by:
Mayurakshi Barua, New Delhi


Smini said...

I am 26+ age girl and unmarried. do I need this vaccination? If yes then from where i can get in Gurgaon or from where in delhi?

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