Creating an HPV vaccination strategy in Vietnam

HPV stands for human papillomavirus. A common group of viruses, some of which can cause cancer.

Over 600,000 cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed worldwide in 2020. Up to 90% of these occurred in low- and middle-income countries. 4,132 new cervical cancer cases were reported in 2020 in Vietnam alone. Of these, approximately 97% were attributable to HPV infections.

In Western countries cancer of the cervix is much less common than in developing countries, due to regular cervical screening (Pap smears). In low- and middle-income countries with limited cervical screening programmes, HPV cancers can go untreated until it’s too late.

In Vietnam, between 1995—2015, there were 50,000 cases recorded. Recent figures show 51% of people with HPV related cancer died within 2 years of diagnosis. Cancer costs a lot of money to treat and puts a great strain on medical services in some parts of the world.

The first vaccine for cancer prevention was the Hepatitis B vaccine, which prevents liver cancer. The HPV vaccine was the second. It works extremely well, leading to a decrease of at least 80% of HPV infections in women.

Due to a variety of factors, very few developing countries have introduced the HPV vaccine into their national immunisation programmes. Main reasons in Vietnam include:

  • the high price of vaccines
  • lack of evidence about HPV infections and diseases
  • lack of confidence in high immunisation coverage when vaccinating people beyond infant vaccination schedules.

Research funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Newton Fund has provided data to push forward HPV vaccination programmes in Vietnam.

A UK-Vietnam-Australia-Canada research team studied HPV infection rates of participant groups to identify high-risk HPV types. They also explored HPV related diseases and cancer rates, ages of patients when diagnosed, and outcomes and cost of treatment in Vietnam.

From this data the research team developed a model to show the benefits of the HPV vaccination. This model will be used to help Vietnam’s public health authorities identify the most affordable measures to control the HPV virus, improve public health and reduce the economic impact of treatment costs.

The project team have also worked with researchers to provide them with the skills needed to further study the HPV virus and trial vaccine rollout within Vietnam.

“We know what we need to do to eliminate HPV and associated cancers; the issue is in implementation, especially in developing countries where the funding and rollout of programmes is difficult. This Newton Fund research enables us to work with Vietnamese researchers and authorities to design HPV infection controls that really work and this in turn will help to shape UN efforts internationally.”

Professor Kim Mulholland, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

This work supports efforts by GAVI (the Vaccine Alliance) and World Health Organisation (WHO) to address HPV and cervical cancer across the world.

Photo Credit: Tran Nguyet Lan

Epidemiological features, national burden of several HPV-related diseases and estimation of cost-effectiveness of HPV vaccines in Vietnam

Project Leads: Professor Kim Mulholland, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK and Professor Dang Duc Anh, National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, Vietnam

Delivery Partners: Medical Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, UK, and Ministry of Science and Technology, Vietnam

Project Partners: Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Australia, Pasteur Institute of Ho Chi Minh City

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