Support for universal vaccination of all boys aged 12-13 against human papillomavirus

Marge Berer, RHM Editor; Lisa Hallgarten, RHM Online Editor

Reproductive Health Matters, member of HPV Action

This paper, sent to the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is in support of universal vaccination of all boys aged 12-13 against human papillomavirus (HPV) as a cause of genital warts and HPV-linked cancers that affect men regardless of their sexual orientation


The UK has had a universal policy of vaccinating all girls aged 12-13 with a bivalent vaccine since 2008, and with the quadrivalent vaccine Gardasil since 2012 which, in addition to protection against HPV types 16 and 18, offers protection against two strains of HPV that are responsible for 90% of genital warts, types 6 and 11. According to the Royal Society for Public Health’s September 2014 newsletter, Gardasil also protects against most anal cancers, and while there is currently no data on the efficacy of the vaccine to prevent cancers of the penis, most HPV-related cancers of the penis are also caused by the HPV types prevented by Gardasil. [1]

From September 2014 the vaccine schedule was changed from three to two doses for 12-13 year-old girls in the UK.  Costs will fall concomitantly, freeing up resources. Another vaccine, which has just completed clinical trials, has been found to offer even further protection against the four original HPV types in Gardasil (6, 11, 16, 18), plus five additional variants linked to cervical and vaginal cancers. If it is approved, costs will be altered.

Overall uptake by girls for the vaccination programme has been reported as good. [1] Data for 2012-13 suggest that around 86% of girls had received all three doses of the vaccine in England, and 82% in Scotland. Prevalence of HPV types 16 & 18 in girls has significantly fallen since the introduction of the programme. However, some groups have shown disproportionally low uptake. Research suggests that there is lower knowledge of HPV and lower acceptability of the HPV vaccine in non-white ethnic groups, which may also be linked to religion. High levels of deprivation have also been linked to low HPV uptake. Other research suggests that poor school attenders or those not in school at all, for example those from travelling communities, are at risk of missing vaccination, particularly where schools do not have systems in place to stop girls falling through the net. [1]

Another issue with uptake appears to be the setting in which vaccination is offered. School-led vaccination programmes appear to be more successful than those offered through GP surgeries. Health services in Cornwall, where uptake has been particularly poor, are now moving their vaccination programme into the school setting. [1]

All of this information, before even looking at HPV in men, has implications for extending protection to boys and men. First and most immediately, it shows that opting for a more limited policy ‒ i.e. choosing in 2008 the bivalent vaccine over the quadrivalent one, presumably on grounds of cost, in spite of evidence supporting the wider protection offered by the quadrivalent vaccine[*] ‒ can end up causing a long delay in increasing the level of public health protection available. Four years were lost in this instance, and it took action such as an online survey of members of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV to convince the government to change its policy. That survey collected responses from 407 doctors and 113 nurses and other health staff in January-February 2011 regarding the two types of vaccines. 93% of respondents said they would advise patients to pay privately for the quadrivalent vaccine, rather than accept the government-funded bivalent vaccine. Of those surveyed who had daughters in the school vaccination programme, 61% had actually paid themselves for their daughters to be vaccinated with the quadrivalent vaccine, and some had given their daughters the quadrivalent vaccine after they had had the bivalent one. [2]

Secondly, gender-specific immunisation programmes have been demonstrably less effective historically than gender-neutral immunisation programmes. This was exemplified by the UK’s rubella immunisation programme, which began in 1970. An initial decline in the incidence of rubella was followed by a resurgence of the disease in young men and pregnant women, who had not been vaccinated. Yet it was only in 1995 that the programme was modified to include boys as well as girls, a delay of 25 years. [3]

The evidence from Denmark (where the national HPV vaccination programme is for girls only) on the impact of HPV vaccination on the incidence of genital warts shows that incidence has fallen in women but not in men. The authors believe this is almost certainly because men are having sex with unvaccinated women from Denmark and/or other countries. [4] Or they may be having sex with other men, or both.

Thirdly, since GP- and other non-school venues for vaccination are leading to lower uptake rates than school-based programmes, and the uptake among some girls is better than among others, policy on vaccinating boys needs to take both these limitations into account. Focusing only on boys over 16 years old means school-based programmes have far less chance of reaching boys from a young age. Secondly, focusing only on men who have sex with men (MSM) aged 16-40 raises issues of how to reach them effectively as a “group” and whether focusing only on MSM who attend a GUM clinic will achieve too little, too late as regards near-universal protection.

Given that there are many communities where coverage rates among girls are much lower, vaccinating boys would help to protect unprotected girls/women. Boys/men would also be protected from acquiring HPV infection from non-vaccinated girls/women both from the UK and from other countries, and as well as from non-vaccinated boys/men.

Perhaps most importantly from the point of view of sexual health information, particularly addressed to children under 16 and young men and women in school, excluding boys sends absolutely the wrong message ‒ that girls and women alone are responsible for sexually transmitted infections and sexual health.

What is known about the effects of HPV and the HPV vaccine in boys and men

HPV is the cause of nearly all cervical cancer cases and also causes cancer of the vagina, vulva, anus, penis and the head and neck. It is estimated to be the causal agent in 5% of all human cancers and is heavily implicated in the recent rapid rise in anal and head and neck cancers. HPV is also the cause of genital warts, the commonest sexually transmitted viral disease. [5] These diseases affect males as well as females; indeed, it has been estimated that in the UK more than 2,000 cases of cancer in men are caused each year by HPV as are some 48,000 cases of genital warts. [6]

The risk of acquiring HPV infection is linked primarily to sexual behaviour, including having more than one lifetime sexual partner. No one would ever consider treating only women for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) when they are also transmitted by and to men. Surely the same holds true with vaccination against HPV. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles 2000 found that 34.6% of men in Britain aged 16–44 had had ten or more lifetime sexual partners compared with 19.4% of women. British men are therefore at even greater risk of being exposed to, contracting and transmitting HPV infection than women. Each man who is vaccinated would therefore reduce the infection risk for more than one woman. [7]

HIV infection is strongly associated with increased persistence of HPV infection and the re-activation of latent HPV infection. While much of the research on the increased risk of anal and other HPV-related cancers in men has been in MSM, due to the increased risk of HIV in that population, the incidence of anal carcinomas and anal intraepithelial neoplasia is currently rising in the UK and the USA among both homosexual men, and heterosexual men and women. Number of partners is the issue here, not sexual orientation.

A study recruited 1,159 men aged 18–70 years residing in Brazil, Mexico and the USA who were HIV negative and reported no history of cancer; they were recruited from the general population, universities and health care facilities. The incidence of a new genital HPV infection among them was 38.4 per 1,000 person-months. Oncogenic HPV infection was significantly associated with having a high number of lifetime female sexual partners, and a high number of male anal sexual partners. [8] Thus, the problem of HPV, including oncogenic HPV, is an issue for men who have sex with women too. The data seem to suggest that there are high infection rates and low disease rates in men, while in women there are low infection and high disease rates. [9]

The rapid increase in the incidence of HPV-related head and neck cancers over the past 20 years is also an issue for all men. [10]

A large, national cohort study of Danish men and women examined national patient register data for long-term health outcomes, and specifically the risk of cancer in people with genital warts. The study was among 16,155 men and 32,933 women who had been diagnosed with genital warts from 1978 to 2008. These findings were compared to the general population cancer registry for the relative risk of specific cancers/cancer sites. The total number of cancers observed in the study population was 2,362, compared to an estimated 1,807 cancers in the general population. Overall, patients with genital warts were 30% more likely to develop a cancer compared to those without genital warts. A diagnosis of genital warts was strongly related to anal, vulvar, vaginal, cervical, penile, and head and neck cancer, including sub-sites of head and neck cancer with confirmed HPV association. The risks remained elevated for more than ten years following a genital warts diagnosis. In addition, there were moderately increased relative risk estimates for non-melanoma skin cancer, smoking-related cancers, and Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Many of these cancers were also associated with high-risk strains of HPV. [11]

Thus, the risks from HPV for men as well as women are incontestable.

Data on age at vaccination

A systematic review of data in 64 studies, which reported age-specific HPV prevalence, among more than 14,800 men in 23 countries, generally limited to men >18 years old, found that HPV prevalence was high among the sexually active men in all regions but with considerable variation, depending on age, country and region, ranging from 1% to 84% among low-risk men and from 2% to 93% among high-risk men. Peak HPV prevalence spanned a wide range of ages and, compared with that in women, seemed to peak at slightly older ages and remained constant or slightly decreased with increasing age, suggesting longer-term persistence of high-risk HPV infection in men or a higher rate of re-infection. [12]

In every year that passes, over 400,000 boys miss out on the opportunity to be protected against a virus that causes 5% of all cancers.

Immunity against HPV is greater if the vaccine is administered before age 16. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say:

“Data on immunogenicity in males are available from the phase III trial conducted among males aged 16 through 26 years and from bridging immunogenicity studies conducted among males aged 9 through 15 years. Seroconversion was high for all four HPV vaccine types and post-vaccination antibody titers were significantly higher in males aged 9 through 15 years compared with males aged 16 through 26 years.” [13]

MSM are at risk of HPV infection immediately after sexual debut. A study of young MSM in Australia found that early and high per partner transmission of HPV occurred between men soon after their first sexual experiences. It therefore recommended that HPV vaccination should commence early for maximal prevention of HPV among MSM. [14] [15]

Why vaccinating only MSM is not good enough

The reason the term “men who have sex with men” was coined was because many MSM may not identify as “homosexual” or “bisexual” and because they may have sex with girls/women and boys/men over the years. We repeat ‒ because it is the sexual activity that puts them at risk, services need to focus on attracting the people whose sexual activities put them at risk. Moreover, expecting boys and young men (who may not be sexually active yet or sure of their sexual identity) to have to identify whether they have had or will have sex with other boys/men presents both practical and ethical difficulties.

How would policymakers propose to find boys who say they are, or might in the future be MSM, in order to single them out from other boys in order to vaccinate them? What if boys do not identify themselves as MSM publicly, or even in their own minds, given the stigma that still exists? Would a leaflet be enough to bring them in to be immunised in herd-protective numbers? Would talking to their parents, to whom they may have said nothing about their sexuality?

UK data suggest that GUM clinics will not see young MSM before they become infected with HPV. [16] The median age of MSM at first attendance at a Southampton GUM clinic was 32; thus, most MSM would have had multiple sexual partners with high risk of HPV acquisition before they had attended any clinic. Also, many gay and bisexual men do not use GUM clinics. The 2011 Stonewall Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey, with 6,861 respondents, found that one in four had never been tested for any sexually transmitted infection and 44% had never discussed STIs with a health care professional. One in ten had had sex with women as well as with men in the previous five years. [17]

Given the data summarised above, GUM clinics would therefore not be an effective place to vaccinate sufficient numbers of still uninfected MSM. In fact, the evidence suggests that vaccinating MSM aged 16-25 and those who attend GUM clinics is not the best way to protect even the MSM population as a whole, let alone their sexual partners.

The issue of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010

Lastly, there is the question of discrimination under the Equality Act 2010, which lists the following as some of the relevant characteristics protected in law against discrimination: age, sex, and sexual orientation. [18] Given the substantial evidence of the protective effect of HPV vaccination for all boys and men as well as all girls and women, the failure to ensure that HPV vaccination policy is aimed at universal protection could be construed as discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010, and a case could be taken against the government for withholding the vaccine from boys who identify as MSM aged 12-15 and all boys and men who identify as heterosexual.

We believe the JCVI recommendation is discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. We also think it is not the best policy from a public health perspective either. We question why further information is required before making a recommendation for a universal vaccination programme.

Growing support for vaccination of all boys against HPV

The US Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has recommended that adolescent boys and young men aged 11–21 should be vaccinated against HPV, and that all gay and bisexual men and HIV-positive men aged 26 and under should be vaccinated. [19]

A number of countries, including Australia, Austria and some parts of Canada, have already extended the vaccine to boys as well.

An editorial introducing a group of articles about HPV in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2010 argued that the most acceptable way to achieve high uptake of HPV vaccine was to offer voluntary school-based vaccination, supported by effective consent processes, training, and best practice guidelines for those providing the vaccination, and education for parents, adolescents, and teachers. School delivery programmes, it argued, were also the most feasible for vaccinating both boys and girls, with new data suggesting that older adolescent boys’ health care practices were exceptionally low. [20]

Conclusions and recommendation

In conclusion, we believe the case for universal vaccination of all adolescents aged 12-13 is strong. In September 2014, in a letter to the BMJ, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer called for vaccination of all boys in the UK. [21] This approach is supported by the 35 organisations that make up HPV Action, of which we are one. Cancer Research UK also believes that “vaccinating boys would be beneficial for public health”.

HPV Action estimates that the additional cost of extending the HPV vaccination programme to boys in the UK would be in the region of £20–22 million a year. This relatively small cost has to be set against the economic impact of HPV-related disease. The cost of treating genital warts in England alone is estimated to be over £52 million a year.

Gardasil, the quadrivalent vaccine, is already licensed in the UK for use in boys aged 9–15.

We therefore call on the JCVI to adopt and put forward to the UK government the following recommendation: that the most effective way to eliminate HPV and HPV-related diseases is through a gender-neutral, universal vaccination programme for all children aged 12‒13.

Anything else is discriminatory, inequitable, less effective, and difficult to explain or justify.


  1. Royal Society for Public Health. September 2014 newsletter.
  2. Doctors bypass NHS for their daughters’ HPV vaccination. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) press release, 15 February 2011.…-a0259077137
  3. Kubba T. Human papillomavirus vaccination in the United Kingdom: what about boys? Reproductive Health Matters 2008;16(32):97–103.
  4. Baandrup LBlomberg MDehlendorff C, et al. Significant decrease in the incidence of genital warts in young Danish women after implementation of a national human papillomavirus vaccination program. Sexually Transmitted Diseases2013 40(2):130-5.
  6. Baker P. Going gender-neutral with the HPV vaccine. British Journal of Nursing 2014;23(11):550.
  1. Johnson AM, Mercer CH, Erens, B et al. Sexual behaviour in Britain: partnerships, practices and HIV risk behaviours.Lancet2001;358:1835–42. Cited in Kubba [3].
  2. Giuliano AR, Lee J-H, Fulp W, et al. Incidence and clearance of genital human papillomavirus infection in men (HIM): a cohort study. Lancet 2011;377:932–40.
  3. Monsonego J. Genital infection with HPV in men: research into practice. Lancet 2011;377:881–83.
  4. Potentially HPV-related head and neck cancers. National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN) 
  5. Blomberg M, Friis S, Munk C, et al. Genital warts and risk of cancer – a Danish study of nearly 50,000 patients with genital warts. Journal of Infectious Diseases 2012;205(10):1544‒53.
  6. 12.Smith JS, Gilbert PA, Melendy A, et al. Age-specific prevalence of human papillomavirus infection in males: a global review. Journal of Adolescent Health 2011;48(6):540–52.
  7. Recommendations on the Use of Quadrivalent Human Papillomavirus Vaccine in Males — Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2011; 60(50);1705-1708
  8. Zou H, Tabrizi SN, Grulich AE, et al. Early acquisition of anogenital human papillomavirus among teenage men who have sex with men. Journal of Infectious Diseases 2014;209(5):642‒51.
  9. Zou H, Tabrizi SN, Grulich AE, et al. Site-specific human papillomavirus infection in adolescent men who have sex with men (HYPER): an observational cohort study.
  10. Clarke E, Board C, Patel N. Why are anogenital warts diagnoses decreasing in the UK: bivalent human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine cross-protection or failure to examine? Sexually Transmitted Infections 2014;90(8):587.
  11. Stonewall Gay and Bisexual Men’s Health Survey.
  12. Equality Act 2010.
  13. Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Recommended Adult Immunization Schedule: United States, 2012. Annals of Internal Medicine 2012;156(3):211–17.
  14. Skinner SR, Cooper Robbins SC. Voluntary school-based human papillomavirus vaccination: an efficient and acceptable model for achieving high vaccine coverage in adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health 2010;47(3):215–18. Doi:
  15. John Baron MP and chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, et al. Time to vaccinate boys against HPV infection and cancer, say parliamentarians with special interest in public health [letter]. BMJ 2014;349:g5789. Doi: 10.1136/bmj.g5789.

[*] By 2008, worldwide the quadrivalent vaccine was already considered the vaccine of choice and had been selected by health authorities in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Italy, Spain and Sweden for regional and national immunisation programmes.

Equitable policy to attain universal reproductive health: the example of Cuba

By Jonathan Broad, Academic Foundation Doctor in the Horizon Centre, Torbay Hospital, UK and a Research Associate in Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, with an interest in gender violence, social equity and health in Palestine.

I read with great interest Sundari Ravindran’s call for advocacy against neoliberal globalisation and its damaging effect on reproductive health through inaccessible health services, economic inequality and food insecurity (RHM May 2014).[1] During my recent medical placement in maternity services in Cuba I observed a strong example of equitable and just health planning that is much needed to realise universal reproductive health, and runs counter to the commercialisation that has dominated health policy discussions since the 1980s.

Universal reproductive health services in the community
Neoliberal doctrine reduces state provision in favour of the private sector, which tends to discourage access and encourage specialised services.[1] An early priority of the Cuban revolution was to create universal, publicly funded healthcare at the community level, particularly in areas that had little access to healthcare. The government massively expanded primary care, focusing on the ‘polyclinic’, an interdisciplinary centre combining 22 services, including reproductive health care alongside general medical care, social work and dentistry.[2] These community-based services are the bedrock of reproductive health care in Cuba, advising on family planning, providing free access to contraception, antenatal care, health promotion and perinatal screening. They also coordinate early abortions, which are legal, safe and free in Cuba in contrast to other countries in Latin America. [3]

Family doctors are emotionally and geographically close to their patients, often living in small clinics and visiting patients in their homes in bi-annual neighbourhood health check upscheckups. This personal relationship allows family doctors to support women to be healthy in preparation for pregnancy, and it was heartwarming to see the emotional proximity of these doctors to couples preparing to start families. This is a feature of primary care, but particularly in a country with less difference in socioeconomic status between patient and doctor.

Maternal health promotion, not profit
Preventative maternal and reproductive health care is of paramount importance in Cuba, supporting women to be healthy before conception; and promoting a healthy pregnancy. A particularly impressive demonstration of this are their residential maternity services, called casas de mujeres, or women’s houses. These services were originally designed for rural families who, prior to the revolution, had little access to health care. Their success in improving skilled birth attendance for rural populations was subsequently expanded to incorporate any families at risk during pregnancy. If a woman is anaemic, underweight, a teenager, or if her family has any financial or social difficulties, the government provides free accommodation, with an in-house cook, doctor, nurse, transport and security, all provided through public money. [2] When the resident doctor is unable to manage a risk factor, for example if the woman has anaemia that is unresponsive to treatment, they coordinate treatment with the local hospital.

The impact of this goes beyond reproduction towards population health. By investing in early life and encouraging women’s pregnancies to be as healthy as possible, Cuba avoids the lifelong burdens associated with early deprivation, a problem that plagues countries with high levels of poverty and economic inequality, where a child’s social status has lifelong impacts on their health, from increased risk of conditions such as metabolic disorders and heart disease.[4]

Popular education and health knowledge
Despite an ongoing economic blockade of medicines and health care technology, births take place in hospitals with safe conditions and adequate provision. Whereas western countries favour patented medications [5], Cuba has a large publicly owned pharmaceutical sector that is a producer of high quality generic medications for countries in the global south. Indeed, it has been a strong advocate for the essential medicines campaign to provide a basic formulary of medicines that should be available, affordable and without patents. Health services therefore serve the public good, rather than profit pharmaceutical companies and serve the minority that can afford expensive health costs.

Cuba provides public access to health knowledge and educational opportunity by subsidising medical training for its population and for health care students from other countries, even paying students a monthly stipend and providing accommodation. Consequently, Cuba has a large numbers of doctors per population [6] and provides other countries with the means to run their own health care systems as well. This is in contrast to medical aid, which is short-term, may be conditional on private sector provision and is often tied to neoliberal trade policies. [7,8] In proverbial terms, you can give a man a fish to make him dependent on you and then speculate on fish prices or like Cuba you can teach him to fish and provide him with a net. [9] From providing non-patented, affordable essential medicine and health technology to free education for health care students, knowledge is used for community interest and public health.

Towards reproductive health equalities
Cuba has so far resisted neoliberalism, and its reproductive health
indicators, e.g. very low maternal mortality ratios, rival countries with larger, more industrialised economies in the global North.[10] I believe that economics based on principles of equity and justice are a viable and better alternative for reproductive health than neoliberal policy and market forces.
Yours sincerely, Jonathan Broad

Thanks to Dr Siassakos and Dr Jewell for their supervision of the project. My rotation in reproductive and community health was kindly funded by the Wellbeing of Women foundation, the RCGP Severn Faculty, and the Faculty of Public Health.

1. Sundari R. Poverty, food security and universal access to sexual and reproductive health services: a call for cross-movement advocacy against neoliberal globalisation. Reproductive Health Matters 22.43 (2014): 14-27.
2. Keon WJ. Cuba’s system of maternal health and early childhood development: lessons for Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal 180.3 (2009): 314-316.
3. Shah I, and Elisabeth Ǻ. Unsafe abortion in 2008: global and regional levels and trends.
Reproductive health matters 18.36 (2010): 90-101.
4. Godfrey KM., Peter DG., and Mark AH. Developmental origins of metabolic disease: life course and intergenerational perspectives. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism 21.4 (2010): 199-205.
5. Dávila AL. Global pharmaceutical development and access: critical issues of ethics and equity. MEDICC review 13.3 (2011): 16-22.
6. World Bank. World Bank: Physicians (per 1,000 people)
7. Mosse D. Global governance and the ethnography of international aid. In: Mosse D, Lewis D (eds.) The aid effect: giving and governing in international development. London: Pluto Books; 2005. p1-36.
8. Harrigan J, and Chengang W. A New Approach to the Allocation of Aid among Developing Countries: Is the USA different from the Rest?. World Development 39.8 (2011): 1281-1293.
9. Ritchie, Anne Isabella. Mrs Dymond. 1885.
10. World Health Organization. World health statistics 2014. Geneva: WHO, 2014.

Disappointing decision on HPV vaccination for boys (UK)

Marge Berer, RHM Editor

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) advises the UK Department of Health on its vaccination programme and has been considering the question of whether to vaccinate boys against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). Today it published its interim recommendations, which do not address a universal programme of vaccination for boys as well as girls.


The UK currently has a programme of HPV vaccination for girls to prevent cervical cancer which is most commonly caused by infection with HPV.  Because it is important to vaccinate before they become sexually active and come into contact with the virus, the vaccination is offered to all girls aged 12-13 years  old.

In addition to cervical cancer, HPV is a factor in many other cancers including anal cancer, penile cancer, mouth cancer and oropharyngeal cancer, all of which affect men as well as women. People living with HIV are at higher risk of all these cancers. Under the current regime, there is no HPV vaccination programme for boys. Assuming men in the UK only have sex with women who have been vaccinated, they should be protected from HPV. However it is safe to assume that men in the UK may also have sex with:

  • women who missed out on vaccination because of their age (vaccination for girls was only introduced in 2008) or parental withdrawal from the scheme,
  • women from countries where there is no vaccination programme,
  • and other men

Recognising the range and seriousness of diseases that can be prevented, the Australian government introduced HPV vaccination for teenage boys in 2013. HPV action, a UK coalition of 35 health-related organisations, has been lobbying for the same ‘gender-neutral’ vaccination in the UK.

The interim decision of the JCVI, published today, is to advise that “a programme for the vaccination of MSM aged 16 to 40 years of age should be implemented in GUM and HIV clinics in the UK using the quadrivalent HPV vaccine, subject to the programme being provided at a cost-effective price”. This suggestion is shortsighted beyond comprehension.

The whole point of talking about the sexual health needs of MSM (men who have sex with men) as opposed to homosexual or gay men in the first place is because men who have sex with men don’t all only ever have sex with other men. As both men and boys, they also sometimes have sex with women. Given that universal vaccination of girls to prevent human papillomavirus (HPV) and genital warts has been accepted as a public health priority globally, surely universal vaccination of boys is equally a priority – since boys and men are at risk of an equally serious range of cancers and other diseases from HPV (especially if they have HIV), and they have genital warts as often as girls and women.

How could anyone have suggested, let alone seriously considered, vaccinating only MSM in the male population in the first place. What did they expect to do as regards adolescent boys – walk into schools and say “Which boys are having sex with other boys here? Raise your hands − and please come to the school clinic now.”??  Or even more absurd, how can they advise waiting until a boy or man attends an STI clinic in order to recognise they are at risk of HPV, and offer them a vaccination after the fact, when it may be too late! It also seems transgender people aren’t on the radar at all, in spite of findings from 15 countries in the Lancet Infectious Diseases in 20131 that 19% of transgender women have HIV(1), and transgender men also have a high HIV prevalence, which puts them at increased risk of HPV infection and HPV-related diseases.

Moreover, studies have shown that a female-specific vaccination approach would be only 60–75% as efficient at reducing HPV prevalence in women as a gender-neutral vaccination(2).

The only sensible policy is universal vaccination, from the same age as girls of 13, and with the same catch-up provisions for those who are older.


(1) Baral SD et al. Worldwide burden of HIV in transgender women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Infect Dis, 13: 214-22, 2013.

(2) Kubba T. Human papillomavirus vaccination in the UK: what about boys? RHM 16(32) 97-103

All RHM papers and research round ups on HPV are available to download here

Presentation on UK, Spain and Ireland for September 28th 2014

On September 25th RHM Editor, Marge Berer, participated in an evening meeting held to mark September 28th, International Day of Action for the Decriminalisation of Abortion. Delegates at the meeting held at Amnesty International heard from the Central American Women’s Network (CAWN) and Amnesty about the work both organisations are doing in El Salvador to draw attention to the impact of the total criminalisation of abortion on women’s health and human rights. Amnesty launched this report and CAWN screened Life at Any Price.

Marge Berer then did a presentation capturing latest developments in abortion law and policy in Ireland, Spain and the UK.

UK organisations and others send message of solidarity to Ireland

In the light of the recent case in Ireland (Miss Y) – in which a woman was subjected to multiple violations of her body and rights, amounting to cruel and degrading treatment, including refusal of abortion despite the risk of death, forced hydration, and coerced Caesarean section – we support calls in Ireland for the Government to repeal the 8th Amendment and to replace the Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act with a law that prioritises women’s health and rights. We believe it is not acceptable that an embryo/fetus has equal rights and constitutional protections to a woman; and even less acceptable that when those rights come into conflict the Irish medical and legal system prioritises the rights and life of the embryo/fetus over those of the woman.

We express solidarity with the rallies around Ireland on 20th August, (and the March for Choice, Saturday 27th September) and with:

  • Abortion Rights Campaign
  • Coalition to Repeal the 8th Amendment
  • Doctors for Choice
  • Lawyers for Choice
  • Termination for Medical Reasons (TFMR)                                                                                       and all those organisations and individuals supporting and campaigning for sexual and reproductive rights in Ireland.


  • Lisa Hallgarten, Chair, Voice for Choice
  • Abortion Rights
  • Abortion Support Network
  • Dr Donatella Alessandrini, Reader in Law, Kent Law School
  • Alliance for Choice
  • Antenatal Results and Choices
  • APAC-Suisse, Association de professionnels de l’avortement et de la contraception
  • Nicola Barker, Senior Lecturer, Kent Law School
  • bpas
  • Brook, including Book Northern Ireland
  • Dr Ruth Cain, Lecturer in Law, Kent Law School
  • Dr Luis Eslava, Lecturer in Law, Kent Law School
  • FPA
  • John Fitzpatrick, Kent Law Clinic
  • Emily Grabham, Reader in Law, Kent Law School
  • Edward Kirton-Darling, LL.B, LL.M, Solicitor
  • Marie Stopes International
  • My Belly is Mine
  • Connal Parsley, Lecturer in Law, Kent Law School
  • Reproductive Health Matters
  • Sinéad Ring, Senior Lecturer, Kent Law School
  • Professor Sally Sheldon, Kent Law School
  • Hannah Uglow, Solicitor, Kent Law Clinic
  • Toni Williams, Professor of Law

Please get in touch: lhallgarten[at] if you or your organisation would like to sign up



Update: Guidelines on how to implement the ‘Protection of Life in Pregnancy Act’, were published by the Irish Department of Health on 19th September 2014. Paragraph 6.2 of the guidelines say:

“An important consideration in relation to the carrying out of the medical procedure is the issue of the gestational age of the unborn.

There is no time limit imposed by the Act in carrying out the medical procedure. However, the
Act legally requires doctors to preserve unborn human life as far as practicable without
compromising the woman’s right to life. Therefore, there is no specific stage of pregnancy
below which the certifying doctor will not have to consider the possibility of preserving the life
and the dignity of the unborn where practicable without compromising the life of the mother.
Once certification has taken place, a pregnant woman has a right to a termination of
pregnancy as soon as it can be arranged. The clinicians responsible for her care will need to
use their clinical judgment as to the most appropriate procedure to be carried out, in
cognisance of the constitutional protection afforded to the unborn, i.e. a medical or surgical
termination or an early delivery by induction or Caesarean section.
Following certification, if the pregnancy is approaching viability, it is recommended that a multidisciplinary discussion takes place to ascertain the most appropriate clinical management of the case.”

RHM calls for solidarity with groups in Ireland campaigning for reproductive rights

RHM sends message of solidarity to those in Ireland campaigning against the 8th Amendment and for women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights. We support the call for demonstrations across the world − 20 August

Solidarity Statement: 

It took the appalling and easily preventable death of Savita Halappanavar for the Irish government to find the courage to agree to change the Irish abortion law. However, despite the new law making provision for life-saving abortion, it has actually be used against a woman instead, the very first woman to seek an abortion under it − a young woman, 18 years old, an asylum seeker, with an undeniable case. The way she was treated, and the multiple ways in which her rights were violated, is beyond shocking.

Why the Irish Attorney-General failed to intervene on behalf of the young woman needs to be explained. On what legal grounds the Health Service Executive considered it their right to seek a court order to forcibly hydrate the young woman needs to be explained as well. The court judgement giving such permission and also giving permission for a forced caesarean section must be challenged after the fact; it sets an unethical, unconscionable precedent.

The hospital department in question should be shut down for multiple violations of this young woman’s human rights, for refusing to implement the abortion law, and for not referring her on to medical professionals who would have allowed an abortion in line with the new law. The medical professionals who committed these violations should have their right to practise medicine removed.

The new law was never going to help more than a few women every year, but to use it to violate – repeatedly − a young woman’s bodily integrity and autonomy, is akin to judicial and medical rape. It should be treated as a form of torture, and punished.

The government must allow a referendum on the 8th amendment. As with Savita, this case shows it is impossible to address the rights of the woman and the fetus equally. The law’s ambiguity cannot be allowed to stand. Meanwhile, doctors and psychiatrists in Ireland who are committed to women’s health and rights need to make themselves available for women in cases such as this one, who will otherwise have nowhere to turn for help when it is needed.

Support the rallies in:

Dublin - Wednesday 20th August, 18.00, beside The Spire

Galway - We are not vessels! Repeal the 8th Amendment! Wednesday 20th August at 18:00
Eyre Square, Galway City

Cork – Wednesday 18.00, Courthouse

Limerick Pro Choice will be holding an Open Meeting this Wednesday 20th August at 20:00 pm in the Cellar Door.

Belfast – Protest at the treatment of suicidal woman seeking abortion. Wednesday at 18.00
Belfast City Hall

Derry – Guildhall. Wednesday at 18.00

London - Irish Embassy 17 Grosvenor Place, London SW1X 7HR. Wednesday at 18.00

Berlin – Irish Embassy. Wednesday at 18.30

Auckland – Consulate General of Ireland. Wednesday 8.15 a.m.

History: 18 year old asylum seeker in Ireland raped, refused an abortion, threatened suicide, went on hunger and liquid strike, court order obtained by doctors to forcibly hydrate her and do a forced caesarean section at 24-25 weeks of pregnancy. 

This article from the Irish Times includes the woman’s own description of her treatment.



Are women in the UK clueless about contraception?

Lisa Hallgarten, RHM online editor

Findings from a recent survey of 1,500 women carried out by Bayer (manufacturer of a range of contraceptive products), confirm concerns that women in the UK do not have full access to information about all contraceptive methods and are not receiving a choice of methods from their GP or family planning doctor.

The press release on Bayer’s findings (which are yet to be published in full) announces that ‘Many UK Women Are Not Clued-Up When It Comes To Contraception’.  However, opportunities for women and men to learn more about, let alone access, contraception in the UK have been diminishing in recent years with sex and relationships education de-prioritised in many schools; dedicated family planning services closing; lack of dedicated family planning trained GPs or nurses in many GP surgeries; the premature demise of a government health promotion campaign which included well-received television adverts – encouraging people to talk to each other about less known contraceptive methods; and the closure of both the fpa helpline staffed by experienced family planning trained nurses, and the Brook helpline providing information specifically to young people.

In this context we know that women seeking contraception often ask to talk to their doctor about ‘going on the pill’ as a proxy for discussion of contraception and often doctors take this as a prompt to provide the pill rather than offer the full range of options. Whether this is due to limitations in time, budget constraints, their own preferences, or their own lack of training and knowledge is not captured in this survey.

Good quality contraceptive counselling allows a woman sufficient time and information to consider the right option for herself in the context of: her experience of menstruation and the meanings she attaches to menstruating; her lifestyle; her relationship(s) and frequency of sex; broader health issues; and her intentions regarding pregnancy in the immediate and near future. Not all doctors or family planning providers have the time, knowledge or skill to facilitate this decision-making process. Some doctors do not prescribe more expensive methods such as the patch or contraceptive ring. Meanwhile, there is still widespread ignorance about the potential for IUDs to be fitted up to 5 days after sex as a form of emergency contraception, and some doctors still erroneously believe that the IUD and IUS are not suitable for young or nulliparous women.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidelines on providing long acting reversible contraceptive methods in 2005, and its recommendations have been widely embraced by policy makers and some health providers. Ongoing research suggests that LARC methods are a good option for those who find user-dependent methods of contraception difficult to use consistently or who find it difficult to negotiate contraceptive use with partners. However, they are not suitable for all women, and promoting long acting methods should not preclude the offer of other methods which are considered less reliable, but may suit some women better. Research published in RHM clearly demonstrates the need to ensure that practitioners do not compromise their commitment to fully informed decision-making or to the rights of women to have methods removed in the event that they are no longer wanted or are causing unmanageable side effects. Practitioners also need to remember the humble condom and meet the ongoing need to promote dual protection, against HIV and STIs as well as pregnancy.

Much has been written about the economic benefits of investment in family planning, but there are no shortcuts. Given the pitfalls we are aware of in a relatively well-resourced health system (UK) where contraception is provided free to women of all ages, there are important lessons to be learned for agencies promoting or participating in the mass roll-out of contraception through initiatives such as FP2020. Health care providers must have the time, training and commitment to provide good quality contraceptive counselling. The full range of methods must be available to reflect the diverse needs of women.  All work must be grounded in a rights-based ethos: prioritising  women – not targets for contraceptive coverage. This is essential to safeguard against coercive practices, and poorly supported decision-making, both of which can lead to early removal or inconsistent use of methods and lack of future trust in, and engagement with, contraceptive and other essential health services.