Merck and Qiagen have teamed up with the Republic of Rwanda for a national program that will provide free vaccinations and health screenings to combat cervical cancer, which is the most common cancer among Rwandan women.
Merck will provide more than two million free doses of Gardasil, a vaccine that helps lower the risk of genital human papillomavirus (also called HPV). HPV, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection, causes genital warts and cervical cancer. Most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. Qiagen will be donating 250,000 free screening tests, along with equipment and training.
The program will be free for the first three years, at which point all services will continue at a discounted rate. When the initiative kicks off later this year, local women 12 to 15 years old will receive vaccinations and women ages 35 to 45 will be eligible for screening tests.
"Over 85 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in the world's poorest countries, having an impact on the women affected, their families and their communities," Merck’s Dr. Mark Feinberg said in a statement.
Gardasil is offered in the U.S. as well to help prevent cervical, vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers, including the genital warts and lesions from HPV in women ages 9 through 26. The vaccine also protects men within the same age range from anal cancer, lesions and genital warts.
To learn more about HPV and cervical cancer, visit the National Cancer Institute.
(Photo: REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly/Landov)