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A major pharmaceutical company has reduced the cost of a vaccine for the virus that causes cervical cancer by about R250, it said on Wednesday.
"In a developing country such as South Africa, affordability is an important issue," said GlaxoSmithKline South Africa's general manager David Pritchard in a statement.
GSK reduced the price of its vaccine, Cervarix, from R700 a dose to R450. The vaccine prevented infection by the Human Papilloma Virus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer. It is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer amongst South African women. One in 31 would be diagnosed with it in their lifetimes.
Martha Molete, of the Cancer Association of South Africa welcomed the reduction.
"We welcome all efforts to prevent cancer. We encourage them to drop the price even further."
The vaccine requires three doses. Even at the reduced price, vaccination would still cost R1 350.
"Its not accessible to most of the population," she said.
GSK said it hoped to work more closely with the government in providing its vaccine to South African women.
Dr Peter Koll, a Sandton gynaecologist, applauded the reduction in price.
"I can tell you of the devastation and pain and even about the unnecessary loss of life that inevitably accompanies a prognosis of cervical cancer. Now we can at last start chipping away at the numbers of patients that are diagnosed with the disease."
Cervarix is one of two HPV vaccines available in South Africa. The other is Gardasil which is distributed by Merck, Sharp and Dohme. Gardasil provides protection against four strains of HPV while Cervarix defends against two.
Until the price reduction by GSK, the vaccinations cost approximately the same, with Gardasil costing R770 a dose.
Molete said that children, in particular girls should be given the vaccine before they become sexually active, or between the ages of 10 and 12. Young boys should also be given the vaccine. While they could not develop cervical cancer, they could be passive HPV carriers and spread the disease to others.
Approximately 6 700 women would develop cervical cancer a year in South Africa. Its incidence could be increased by smoking, having sex before the age of 18 and being HIV positive.
Cervical cancer takes several years to develop. Early detection by a gynaecologist using a pap smear is crucial to its successful treatment.
Symptoms of late stage cervical cancer are vaginal bleeding between monthly periods, after intercourse or after a pelvic examination or unusually heavy periods. - Sapa