57 year old Sumitra Prasad was leading a regular life with her family in Siliguri. In June 2022, the relatively healthy women visited a hospital for a regular health checkup which also included a pap-smear. Upon checking her, the gynecologist gave her a shocking news that turned Sumitra and her family’s life upside down. She was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The family spared no time & expense, travelled to Bangalore to get her treated. It wasn’t an easy journey for Sumitra and her family who had to face several ups and downs (physical, mental and financial) while her treatment continued. Although she has not completely beaten cancer, Sumitra is well on her way to recovery, much to the relief of her family.
What worked in Sumitra’s favor was that her ailment was detected at a rather early stage. Her family also had the resources and awareness to address the challenge in the most effective manner.
Unfortunately most women in India are not as fortunate. Not many are aware that cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Indian between the ages of 15 and 44. The awareness is much lesser is rural areas where this ailment is more common.
Another critical factor that most of us women are unaware of is that cervical cancer is completely PREVENTABLE.
Yes! You read that correctly. All that we require is an HPV vaccine and it can reduce our chances of getting cervical cancer along with several other diseases drastically.
In this week’s dose of good news, the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has approved India's first Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus vaccine (qHPV) against cervical cancer. To be manufactured by Serum institute of India (SII), the Pune based company intends to create a vaccine that is effective and affordable.
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of SII tweeted his gratitude towards the DCGI on Tuesday. “For the first time there will be an Indian HPV vaccine to treat cervical cancer in women that is both affordable and accessible. We look forward to launching it later this year and we thank the #DCGI @MoHFW_INDIA for granting approval today,” read the tweet.
According to an ANI report, the qHPV vaccine was also approved by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) after reviewing the clinical trial data on the vaccine.
After the vaccine’s phase 2/3 clinical trial was completed SII had applied to the DCGI seeking market authorisation of the qHPV. Reports suggest that the vaccine will hit the market by the end of the year, which is great news for women all across the country.
Awareness& Education are Key
Although it is great news that HPV vaccines are enroute becoming affordable and accessible yet there still remains a lot to be done to empower women to fight cervical cancer. Unfortunately only a handful of women are aware that the disease is preventable by screening through Pap smear and HPV vaccines. Infact I recently consulted a practicing gynecologist in my city about taking HPV vaccines. To my shock the doctor herself knew very little about the vaccine and its effects.
We must understand that there is an urgent requirement to spread awareness about the disease, its early detection and preventive measures against it.
We live in a society where there is still stigma attached to Pap smear which happens to be one of the preliminary ways to detent cervical cancer. It is high time that we dispel this stigma. It is also pertinent to stress on the importance of self-screening which can directly impact incidence and reduce mortality from cervical cancer.
Healthcare professionals also need to be made aware of the HPV vaccines and also educated on ways to communicate with young patients and their guardians.
A simple step of ours can result in saving a woman’s life. So let’s pledge to do our part in India’s fight against cervical cancer.