Cervical cancer hits the poor hardest — 80 per cent of the deaths it causes are in developing countries.
Meanwhile, the disease, which is triggered by the human papilloma virus (HPV), is in decline in the West, vanquished by cervical smear tests.
Two new, unusually successful vaccines have entered phase III clinical trials and offer the hope that infection rates will decline in developing countries.
In this article in Science, Jon Cohen chronicles the development of the vaccines by Merck in the United States and GlaxoSmithKline in Belgium, and looks beyond the lab at the dilemmas facing researchers and poor countries alike.
One worry shared by many researchers is that the vaccines could take years to reach developing countries. In addition, the vaccines do not cover every type of HPV, so they will fail to work in about 30 per cent of cases. However, researchers believe the benefits outweigh the concerns.