Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Lao PDR first S.E. Asian nation to introduce pneumococcal vaccine and demonstrates cervical cancer vaccine with GAVI support

Vaccines protect against two of developing world’s leading killers

WPRO_Christine McNab

VIENTIANE, 2 October 2013 -- The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR) will today become the first South-East Asian nation to introduce pneumococcal vaccine and begin a demonstration project for Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, simultaneously tackling two major killers of children and women respectively – pneumococcal disease and cervical cancer.

The Lao PDR government will begin vaccinations at a ceremony in Vientiane on Wednesday morning involving hundreds of infants and school girls. About 180,000 infants will receive pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) and 13,000 girls will receive the HPV vaccine in the next year.

Globally, pneumococcal disease takes the lives of half a million children under the age of five each year and the vast majority live in developing countries. In Lao PDR, pneumonia accounts for the deaths of approximately 2,800 children, or 19% of the country’s under-five child mortality. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine could prevent a significant proportion of those deaths.

Lao PDR is the 32nd GAVI-eligible country to introduce PCV into its routine immunization programme since the GAVI Alliance began funding it in December 2010. By rapidly scaling up roll-out to more than 50 countries, GAVI and its partners could avert more than 500,000 deaths by 2015 and up to 1.5 million deaths by 2020.

HPV causes cervical cancer which kills around 274,000 women every year and is projected to kill up to 430,000 per year by 2030 if left unchecked. More than 85 % of cervical cancer deaths occur in developing countries. In Lao PDR, about 500 women get cervical cancer each year, and more than half of them die.

The HPV vaccine prevents about 70% of cervical cancer and will be given to about 13 000 Grade Five school girls each year as part of a two-year demonstration project in Vientiane city and Vientiane Province. Girls who are not in school will also be identified and vaccinated. If successful, the demonstration project will lead the way to national roll out of HPV vaccines with GAVI support.

“These vaccines are a critical new part of our immunization efforts. The pneumococcal vaccine helps to prevent pneumonia, which is the main cause of death and illness for Lao children under five years of age. The HPV vaccine will help prevent cervical cancer, one of the highest causes of cancer-related deaths in Lao women,” said Dr. Eksavang Vongvichit, Health Minister of Lao PDR.

“The immunization programme is helping us to achieve the maternal and child health Millennium Development Goals, which are a priority for Lao PDR.”

Lao PDR is introducing the vaccines with support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI Alliance), a public-private global health partnership which includes UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and many other partners and donors.

“This milestone is the result of leadership by the Government of Lao PDR as well as donors and global health partners working together to provide children with the same protection against disease as children in wealthier nations,” said Helen Evans, GAVI’s Deputy CEO. “Immunization represents one of the most cost-effective ways to improve health and support development.”

“The two vaccines will prevent deaths and illness, and contribute to the reduction of child mortality and improve maternal health, which is important to Lao’s future development,” said Dr. Liu Yunguo, WHO Representative, on behalf of UN and other development partners.

Lao PDR is one of 10 developing countries approved and funded by GAVI to demonstrate the use of HPV vaccine to protect girls aged 9 to 13 and test whether they have the right strategy to vaccinate girls nationwide. By 2015, GAVI plans to support the immunization of approximately one million girls with HPV vaccines. By 2020, it is hoped more than 30 million girls will be immunized against HPV with GAVI support.

In recent years, Lao PDR has made important progress with its immunization programme. It has introduced both Hepatitis B and pentavalent vaccines with GAVI support. The country has also held a nationwide measles-rubella campaign, and provided Japanese encephalitis and seasonal influenza vaccines to at-risk populations without GAVI support, underscoring the country’s commitment to providing available vaccines. Lao PDR’s routine vaccination coverage increased from 49% in 2005 to 79% in 2012. This success is one reason deaths of children under five have been reduced by almost half in Lao since 1990.

Media Contacts:
Ms Irene Tan
Communications Officer
WHO Representative Office in the Lao
People’s Democratic Republic
Telephone: +856 21 353 902