ABU DHABI // A programme to vaccinate young women against cervical cancer is being considered by the National Immunisation Committee (NIC). The Gardasil vaccine is already licensed, but only available to patients who pay for it privately at a cost of up to Dh2,000 (US$540). A national programme could make it more affordable and run alongside public awareness campaigns, officials said.
Dr Mahmoud Fikri, the chairman of the committee and a senior member of the Ministry of Health, said such a move was being considered by a newly formed technical team. "A task force has been formulated and will prepare a technical paper which will be presented to the National Immunisation Committee. [They will] examine the new vaccinations and prevention procedures," he said. "To make it a national programme, the committee has to approve it and be aware of all the facts."
Dr Fikri said the panel would look at the benefits of making the vaccine more widely available, and would produce a "detailed report about its efficiency, side effects and age categories". Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosed in Emirati women. According to the Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (HAAD), about 70 per cent of cases are diagnosed in the late stages, by which time a woman's chance of survival is much lower.
Women in Abu Dhabi already have access to a heavily subsidised vaccination programme, which began in 2008. Emiratis can get the vaccine for free, while expatriates pay just Dh50. The number of participants in the scheme has risen more than 70 per cent. According to the health authority, cervical cancer strikes 9.9 women in every 100,000. The vaccine is usually administered to females between nine and 26. Many older women have already been exposed.
Dr Mahmoud Jaloudi, the head of medical oncology at Tawam Hospital in Al Ain, said although the cancer was not very common, the number of cases was rising. Anything that reduced the incidence of cancer would be a good thing as long as it was handled sensitively and took into account cultural issues, he said. "Whether the culture will accept vaccinating in school days, I don't know, but I think they will. People are much better educated now and accept that things are different to the way they were 50 years ago," said Dr Jaloudi. "What is lacking the most is awareness campaigns, whether breast cancer or cervical cancer."