By Henry OpondoAs the world marks the fourth International Day of the Girl Child, Girl Effect and Gavi Tuesday announced a ground-breaking partnership to protect girls from contracting cervical cancer in developing countries.
The number of deaths from cervical cancer is on the rise and, without intervention, it is set to overtake maternal mortality in developing countries. Girl Effect and Gavi’s US$10 million joint investment will help address the negative social norms that prevent girls from accessing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which provides protection against 70% of cervical cancer cases. The aim of the partnership is to ensure that more girls take up the vaccine in parts of the world where they are most at risk.
Cervical cancer claims the lives of more than 266,000 women each year, 85% of whom live in developing countries. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in 40 out of 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Although the HPV vaccine is often available, it is not reaching many of the girls who need it most.
As part of this integrated partnership, Gavi will support countries in purchasing HPV vaccines, while Girl Effect will unlock demand by catalysing girls to demand immunisation against cervical cancer. Girl Effect will do this by leveraging its culture brands – brands rooted in local culture, and which reflect girls’ realities, their stories and the challenges they face every day. They work through integrating social and mass media – like radio shows and magazines – mobile apps, girl-driven insights and safe spaces, both virtual and analogue.
For example, Girl Effect’s brands like Ni Nyampinga in Rwanda and Yegna in Ethiopia, will include storylines and advice columns dispelling myths about the purpose of the vaccine. At the same time, its Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors (TEGAs) – trained girl-researchers using mobile technology to rapidly collect real-life insights – will help the partnership better understand the challenges facing girls and the impact the partnership is having on the ground.
Longer term, the Girl Effect-Gavi partnership has an even bigger ambition: to leverage the power of brands to create greater trust in health systems, encouraging more girls to use health services at critical times in their lives.
Farah Ramzan Golant, CEO of Girl Effect, said: “We want to create a ‘new normal’ for girls, where they’re visible, vocal and valued participants in society and actively supported by their communities. A world where they have the information and inspiration they need to seek out the services they need and deserve. In this unusual partnership with Gavi, we’re pioneering an integrated approach to tackle a complex development issue. Gavi will ensure life-saving vaccines are available, while Girl Effect will use the power of our brands, drawing from popular culture and harnessing new technology, to drive behaviour change at scale – ensuring girls are informed and empowered to actively take up these vaccines.”
“Cervical cancer is a scourge that kills women in the prime of their lives, depriving families of mothers, aunts, grandmothers and wives,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The HPV vaccine is a vital tool in the battle against cervical cancer, especially in countries where lack of access to screening and treatment is a major issue. Our partnership with Girl Effect is an opportunity to bring this vaccine to the attention of girls who are at risk of missing out on its lifesaving impact.”
Girl Effect’s US$5 million contribution will be matched by Gavi through the Matching Fund commitment of the Netherlands. In January 2015 the Dutch Government announced a €10 million contribution in support of immunisation through Gavi’s Matching Fund.