June 23, 2006

Vaccine or Virginity?

Filed under: India — Chris @ 4:40 am

Don’t know how I’m getting stuck on women’s health issues. The following appalling item showed up in the Times of India today: “Is it Vaccine or Virginity Test? Ethical and Scientific Issues Raised in Cervical Cancer Trial”. I’ll try to post a link if one becomes available.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approve [a] vaccine, Gardasil, designed to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) infection that causes cervical cancer, and it’s used on girls aged 9-26…. The company says the vaccine will not work for pre-existing infection, which is usually transmitted sexually. “How do we ensure the candidate is not infected? The only way is to do a cervical smear, where a spatula is inserted into the vagina to take a smear of the cervix. How ethical is it it conduct such a test on unmarried women? Or, on a nine-year-old? Isn’t it akin to a virginity test?” asks Dr M Radhakrishna Pillai, director, Rajiv Gandhi Centre For Biotechnology, Thiruvananthapuram.

Apparently, it’s never occurred to anyone to just give the girl the damn vaccine either way and let her virginity remain between her and her God (and, realistically, her husband and parents). The article goes on to more relevant points, like the cost of the vaccine (Rs 16,000) in comparison to basic PAP smears (Rs 100), which are not routinely performed in this country.

I think what’s going on here—beside a basic and unhealthy preoccupation with female virginity (which is not unknown, if different in form, in the US)—is a cost-benefit calculation that just doesn’t translate to my American mindset. From the Indian point of view, it is unthinkable to waste good medicine on someone who doesn’t need it, even if the net benefit (socially and medically) of this wastage is apparent.


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