20 Oct 2008

Cervical cancer drug donated to Fiji

9:56 am on 20 October 2008

An international drug manufacturer has donated the expensive Gardasil vaccine to Fiji so girls there can be immunised against cervical cancer.

The gift by Merck Sharp and Dohme is worth more than $NZ22 million.

Radio New Zealand's health correspondent says it's seen as Fiji's only hope for cutting a high death rate from cervical cancer.

New Zealand is spending $NZ177 million over the next five years to vaccinate girls against cervical cancer, which kills about 60 women a year in New Zealand.

In Fiji, where screening reaches only 10% of women, the death rate's higher, and incidence of the cancer is about five times what it is here.

Suva-based Melbourne University researcher Fiona Russell says it's a significant problem.

She and a UK-based colleague approached Merck, which agreed to give Fiji 110,000 doses of Gardasil.

Merck's New Zealand managing director, Alister Brown, says it's enough to enable Fiji to vaccinate 32,000 girls between the ages of nine and 12, with a little to spare.

The donated vaccine is nearing the end of its shelf-life; it expires next June, but Mr Brown says that doesn't mean it's inferior.

Radio New Zealand's health correspondent says the pressure's now on in Fiji to vaccinate 32,000 girls - if they and their parents agree. Two shots must be administered before school ends this year, and a final one before June.