A massive boost to vaccination funding has been welcomed by the Ministry of Health (M.O.H.) and the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.).
This week the Asia Development Bank (A.D.B.) approved T$7.4 million to introduce new vaccines in Samoa, as part of a larger project including Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
In total, the System Strengthening for Effective Coverage of New Vaccines in the Pacific project will spend over T$74 million introducing vaccines for the human papilloma virus (H.P.V.), rotavirus (cause of diarrhoea) and pneumococcus conjugate (vaccine against pneumonia).
M.O.H. Assistant Chief Executive Officer of Medical & Allied Health Dr Robert Thomsen says a lack of funding has always gotten between Samoa and the vaccination programs it needs.
“This grant is good news,” said Dr Thomsen.
The H.P.V. vaccine will go far in preventing cervical cancer in women, he added.
“The human papilloma virus is not the only cause of cervical cancer, but it is the most common cause.”
“At first we will conduct mass immunisation campaigns starting in schools to vaccinate all girls aged 12-20 and then incorporate it into our vaccination program.”
Vaccinating for H.P.V. has been proven internationally to radically reduce rates of cervical cancer, which according to the A.D.B. is the second leading cause of death in women the Pacific.
“It won’t eradicate cervical cancer, but it could reduce rates by up to 80 or 90%,” Dr Thomsen said.
Dr Thomsen said as the virus is transmitted sexually, it would be ideal to vaccinate boys as well.
“The vaccine costs about US$10 per dose per person, so it’s very expensive. We’ll just have to see how far the money goes at first.”
M.O.H. will also use the funding to run educational and awareness campaigns about the benefits of vaccinating against H.P.V. for young women and girls.
In a written statement, Dr Rasul Baghirov the W.H.O. representative for Samoa said new vaccines are supported but they require “careful planning.”
“While W.H.O. is in principle supports the introduction of the new proposed vaccines in Samoa through an A.D.B. grant, careful planning should be undertaken in terms of longer-term financial sustainability of such a project.”
“Due consideration should be given to how the introduction of new vaccines can be operationalized through the existing programmes of immunization,” Dr Baghirov said.