August 2007 – Call for ‘timely’ advice on cervical cancer

 Fri, Aug 17, 2007, 01:00

The results of a study into the costs and benefits associated with the introduction of a national vaccination programme to combat cervical cancer are unlikely to be available before the end of the year.

Amid criticism of delays in the introduction of a vaccine programme here, a spokeswoman for the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), which is undertaking the review, said it hoped to have the results of the study by the end of the year.

Human papilloma virus (HPV), which is a sexually-transmitted infection, is a major cause of cancer of the neck of the womb (the cervix).

Two different HPV vaccines – marketed under the trade names Gardasil and Cervarix – have been developed. They are currently indicated for use by girls between 11 and 12 years who are not yet sexually active.

Earlier this year, the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (NIAC) advised the Department of Health to include a vaccine against HPV in the childhood immunisation scheme.

However, the HIQA has since been asked to carry out a cost-benefit analysis of a national HPV vaccination programme.

Yesterday, a member of the NIAC, Dr Kevin Connolly, said it should be able to make its decisions in a more “timely manner”.

“I agree it is unsatisfactory. We ought to be able to have both the time and the personnel to make these decisions in a more timely manner,” Dr Connolly told RTÉ. “And also funds have to be ringfenced so that our recommendations can be carried through.”

Cervical cancer is the ninth most common cancer in women in the Republic; about 70 women die from the disease here each year, the latest figures from the National Cancer Registry show.

There are a number of sub-types of HPV. Chemical trials suggest a three-dose schedule at two- and four-monthly intervals is the most effective way to prevent HPV infection and to ultimately reduce the incidents of cervical cancer.

The Labour Party deputy leader and spokeswoman on health, Liz McManus TD, yesterday criticised the delay in the roll-out of a national vaccination programme. She said she was concerned that the programme for government does not provide a timeframe for the vaccination programme.

“It makes no reference at all to the screening programme that has now been talked about for 10 years. We must treat this condition with the seriousness and urgency it deserves through the urgent introduction of vaccination and screening.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said, as in other jurisdictions, Ireland was considering the potential role of HPV vaccination in addressing cervical cancer prevention.

She added that a “quality assured” cervical screening programme aims to reduce cervical cancer in Ireland by approximately 80 per cent. It was expected that the National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) would have such a programme in place from January.

“When the Minister has received the policy advice from HIQA and the NCSS, the necessary decisions that arise from the advice will be made,” she said.