One of the things I love most about my job is seeing Health Forward’s positive impact in the community. Many of our grants fund projects where this impact is readily evident, but sometimes the effects take longer to see. In the case of Health Forward’s three-year HPV initiative, the real payoff will be in 20 years when the rates of cervical cancer have been reduced in our six county service area.
Given HPV’s (Human papillomavirus) high prevalence – it affects at least 50 percent of all men and women at some point in their lives – many of us are unaware about how it is spread and its possible consequences. HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that can cause genital warts and different types of cancer, with cervical cancer being the most common.
Fortunately, there are vaccines available that can help prevent the most dangerous strains of HPV, protecting girls and women from cervical cancer. Yet the vaccine can be cost-prohibitive, with its three doses costing nearly $600. The vaccine is most effective when all three doses are completed, but even one dose can provide protection.
In 2007, Health Forward partnered with the REACH Healthcare Foundation to provide HPV vaccinations for the uninsured and the underserved in our community.
All girls and women ages 9-26 were eligible to receive the vaccine, but Health Forward targeted women ages 19-26, as girls ages 9-18 are also covered through the Vaccines for Children program. Health Forward and REACH worked with 33 different sites in six counties to administer the vaccine, including safety net health clinics and public health departments.
As of October 2010, Health Forward and REACH’s investment of $3.4 million over three years has provided 16,240 doses of the HPV vaccine to 10,546 girls and women in the community.
We’re also excited that the manufacturer of the HPV vaccine, Merck, has helped to make our work more sustainable. Merck is providing access to their HPV vaccine Patient Assistance Program to patients at our partner sites, which will continue to protect girls and women in our community for the foreseeable future.
As researchers continue to learn more about HPV and its effects on women and men, including its connections to other health issues, it is important to educate ourselves. HPV is often transmitted without us ever knowing, and while it might not impact us directly, we should still strive protect our loved ones.