Good health is an essential building block to empowerment, wellbeing and economic development. For a girl it can mean the ability to attend school, access healthcare, and improve economic outcomes that last for generations.
Innovative approaches that combine private sector expertise with access to critical health interventions can create opportunities for adolescent girls to open the door to the health system. For example, Gavi’s partnership with Girl Effect is their leveraging youth brands to generate girls’ demand for the HPV vaccine, to prevent cervical cancer, while encouraging broader health-seeking behaviour. At the same time, Girl Effect’s partnership with PEPFAR’s DREAMS, is reducing HIV infections in adolescent girls.
How can we build on innovative platforms for girls’ health?
- Preventing disease through vaccination sets off a positive cycle almost immediately in a child’s life.
- When girls can make informed decisions about their health and bodies, they become agents of change.
- Vaccines are one of the most successful and cost-effective health investments to reach the poorest.
- Decisions about the EU’s future will also determine the future of Africa.
We do not normally think of vaccination as an investment, at least not beyond its role in protecting people against infectious disease. But vaccination is in every sense an investment, with wide economic benefits that accrue across a lifetime.
Good health is an essential building block to empowerment, well-being and economic development. For a girl, it can mean the ability to attend school, access healthcare and improve economic outcomes that last for generations. Immunised, healthy children are more likely to go to school and they tend to perform better once they are there.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, is a global partnership, representing among others the World Health Organization and UNICEF, bringing together the private and public sectors. Since it was created in 2000, Gavi has delivered 700 million child vaccines, which are estimated to have saved the lives of 10 million children.
Innovative approaches that combine private-sector expertise with access to critical health interventions can create opportunities for adolescent girls to open the door to health systems. One prime example is Gavi’s pioneering partnership with Girl Effect, a not-for-profit group that aims to empower teenage girls to change their lives for the better.
The four-year link-up between the two organisations focuses on tackling cervical cancer, which poses a particular threat to the health of adolescent girls in the developing world.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) virus is the primary cause of cervical cancer, which currently kills 226,000 women a year. Up to 90 % of cervical cancer cases can be prevented by the HPV vaccine, which is given to girls between eight and 14 years of age.
However, reaching this target audience with vaccines in developing countries is not easy. Adolescent girls are not usually served by existing health services and, on top of this, many women and girls are unaware of the importance of the HPV vaccine.
Gavi and Girl Effect want to encourage greater take-up of the HPV vaccine while promoting broader health-seeking behaviour. At the same time, Girl Effect has also partnered with the DREAMS project in an ambitious partnership to reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women in 10 sub-Saharan African countries.
Such efforts, though, all take place against a backdrop of declining national budgets for development aid and with the population of the African continent expected to double by 2050.
With the 2020 global target of vaccinating 30 million girls against HPV infection is in jeopardy, it is vital that national governments add HPV immunisation to their routine programmes.
Investing in the long-term development of Sub-Saharan Africa can also be a “win-win” option for Europe. It is estimated that Africa will soon have the world’s youngest population and, therefore, has the potential to provide the economic growth and labour that Europe needs.
The leap from the health benefits of administering vaccines to teenage girls in countries such as Rwanda and Malawi to geopolitics may be a long one but the potential gains are clear to see.
While there are many reasons to be afraid, the good news is that many teenage girls are benefiting from increased efforts to roll out HPV vaccination programmes across Africa. The challenge now is to reach even more adolescent girls so that more lives can be saved.