Cervical cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality for women in the Pacific, after heart disease and stroke. About 70% of all such cancer cases are caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus, and can be prevented by a vaccine. Two other common preventable diseases—pneumonia and diarrhea—are responsible for about 3 in 10 deaths of children under the age of 5 in the Pacific islands.

A $15 million grant from an ADF 12 facility for regional health security to support under-resourced health programs is helping to address this situation by partially financing the $25 million System Strengthening for Effective Coverage of New Vaccines in the Pacific Project.

The project will introduce three quality-assured new vaccines into health systems in Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu, which will eventually shield more than 500,000 young women and children in the four Pacific island countries against the human papillomavirus, the pneumococcus bacterium that causes pneumonia, and the rotavirus that leads to diarrhea.

“Vaccines are recognized as one of the most costeffective health investments, and a well-performing immunization program is an essential component of a functioning public health system,” says ADB health specialist for the Pacific Inez Mikkelsen-Lopez.

“The project will reduce the burden of pneumonia and diarrhea in children and increase protection against the human papilloma virus in women.”

Inez Mikkelsen-Lopez, ADB health specialist for the Pacific

“The project will reduce the burden of pneumonia and diarrhea in children and increase protection against the human papilloma virus in women,” she adds.

Government officials in the participating countries are likewise enthusiastic about the project's many benefits. Siale Akau’ola, chief executive officer of Tonga’s Ministry of Health, says the project is training health workers, providing technological assistance, and improving storage facilities to make sure the vaccines are managed and used properly. “We look forward to building our own capacity with the opportunities this project provides,” he says.

"Our countries’ women will benefit,” says Karlos Lee Moresi, chief executive officer of Tuvalu’s Ministry of Health, “and so of course will their children. And they are our future.” Awareness raising is an important element of the project as vaccination can sometimes create fear and has its critics. “We want to empower women and others,” he says of the project’s information and awareness-raising campaign targeting women. “We want to give them the knowledge they need to understand and appreciate how important vaccines are.”

“Vanuatu is like most other Pacific countries—vulnerable to imported diseases and the other threats to regional health security,” says Gaetan Pikioune, the country’s Minister of Finance and Economic Management and an ADB governor. “We embrace this project.”

Learn more about the Asian Development Fund (ADF).

This article was originally published in Together We Deliver, a publication highlighting successful ADB projects across Asia and the Pacific that demonstrated development impacts, best practice, and innovation.