In a new program to vaccinate girls and screen women for cervical cancer, Merck has announced yesterday that it is partnering with Qiagen and the government of Rwanda.
Merck said it was donating two million doses of its Gardasil vaccine to be administered to girls age 12 to 15 while Qiagen would offer 250,000 free HPV screening tests to women between 35 and 45 years old.
The Rwandan government-backed program aims to tackle cervical cancer, which is the most frequent cancer among women in the African nation and is typically caused by two types of sexually transmitted human papillomaviruses (HPV).
"It is our goal to create a comprehensive, coordinated program that includes HPV vaccination, cancer screening with HPV DNA testing, and treatment in order to address the nation's unmet needs for cervical cancer-related health services," said a statement by Richard Sezibera, Rwanda's Minister of Health.
"This vaccination and screening program brings us one step closer to reaching our goal of protecting the girls and women in our country."
Cervical cancer strikes about 500,000 globally each year, particularly in impoverished countries where pap smears are infrequent. It is considered the second most common cancer among women worldwide after breast cancer.
"Over eighty-five percent of cervical cancer cases occur in the world's poorest countries, having an impact on the women affected, their families and their communities," said Mark Feinberg, chief public health and science officer at Merck Vaccines.
"Reducing the incidence of cervical cancer is a very important public health goal."