Brinda questions cervical cancer vaccines programme

Brinda-KaratNew Delhi, April 7 : Communist leader and parliamentarian Brinda Karat has written to Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad asking him to spell out the government's stand on the cervical cancer vaccination programme conducted in an Andhra Pradesh district, from where four deaths have been reported allegedly as an outcome of side effects.

The vaccine is for controlling or protecting against two to four strains of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which could lead to cervical cancer.

Protesting the HPV vaccination drive by an NGO, PATH, in Andhra Pradesh, the CPI-M politburo member Wednesday slammed the government's attitude towards the deaths reported among the young girls to whom the vaccines were given.

Last week, Karat visited the Khammam district where the "study" was conducted by the district and state health officials for the PATH-Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) collaboration project.

Addressing reporters here Karat said: "In my discussion with the health officials there, I was told it is a demo programme and not a clinical trial as is emerging. The deaths of four tribal girls who were vaccinated is a serious issue and cannot be ignored. We need to fix accountability and ensure these studies or whatever they are, aren't carried out on socio-economically marginal groups. This should be stopped in other states."

Karat said that mainly tribal girls in the age bracket of 10 to 14 years were being vaccinated by the NGO with the approval of the Andhra Pradesh government and the Indian Council of Medical Research.

"Although it is a private pharma company MSD (Merck) pharmaceuticals whose expensive vaccines are being given by a single NGO, the vaccination card has the National Rural Health Mission's logo and the district immunization officer's address, whereas the NRHM documents don't mention this vaccination programme at all," said Karat.

In the letter the parliament member has asked the government to specify if there is any such ongoing programme in any states and if so on what basis has the implementation by an NGO been approved.

"Is the ICMR even aware or concerned that the programme violated basic norms of informed consent... nearly 278 girls at a residential bridging course school were vaccinated on the basis of a single signature from their warden and without parental consent. Now there has to be some sort of screening in the coming months to ensure they are fine. I have demanded in the letter that there should be an impartial enquiry as well as a compensation to the girls," she said.

A group of NGOs working on women's rights and public health issues also released a report titled 'Where the State follows a Mercky Path', giving details of the HPV vaccination programme which was started in Khammam district in June 2009.

As part of this drive, the vaccine Gardasil was administered to 14,000 young girls aged 10-14 years. A similar project was also undertaken in Gujarat's Vadodara district.

"In 2010, four girls were reported to have died following the administering of the vaccine dosages. Amongst side effects reported in Khammam, there have been cases of mood swings, irritability and agitation, seizures and a general feeling of uneasiness. Other reported effects included headaches and stomach aches, dizziness, early onset of menstruation and heavy bleeding in some cases," said N. Sarojini, joint convenor of the Jan Swasthiya Abhiyaan who compiled the report.

Meanwhile, the pharma company Merck's said: "Gardasil is the result of over 10 years of research and development. As part of the rigorous scientific vaccine clinical development program, clinical trials evaluating the efficacy and safety of the vaccine have included more than 25,000 women from 33 countries from around the world."(IANS)