HPV vaccine discrimination in Türkiye

HPV vaccine discrimination in Türkiye
Photo by Dmitriy via Pixabay

Dicle Demir

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

Türkiye is on the verge of starting a national vaccination campaign against Human papillomavirus (HPV), however it is to come with some caveats. 

According to World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women globally. [1] WHO data shows that the two most common "high-risk" genotypes of HPV (16 and 18) cause approximately 70% of all cervical cancers. [2]

The legal struggle of women to get the authorities to recognize the health implications of HPV set off with litigation against the social security institution of Türkiye (SGK), which consisted of demands of reimbursement for individuals who paid the full price for the vaccine. [3] Then followed the decision of the 16. Administrative Court of Ankara, which adjudged that the rejection by the public authorities of the request to include the HPV vaccines within the national vaccination programme was unlawful. [4] This news was welcomed; however, what followed generated criticism.

On November 25, the minister of health announced that the HPV vaccine is going to be included in the national vaccination programme, however that “they will be starting vaccination with a specified group and broaden the scope gradually”. [5] The Minister also noted that they were “not hesitant to initiate this campaign but any decision incompatible with the realities of our country would be superfluous. In this regard, (they) will come up with a plan that takes into consideration the age groups and civil status.” [6] 

This statement is rightfully criticized by many actors of civil society. [7] It is argued that the prioritization of some age groups and married women stem from the perception that a sexually-transmitted disease can only affect women who are married. [8] It is without question that such differential treatment will constitute discrimination in right to health, based on civil status, which is prohibited by Article 10 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, among many other national and international legal documents. The idea that only married women are sexually active purports the misogynistic prejudices and is likely to end in stigmatization of single women who are willing to receive the vaccine, albeit with its full cost. Thus, Türkiye must comply with its legal obligations and provide free vaccines against HPV regardless of the civil status and age of the beneficiaries. 



Sources and further reading

[1] World Health Organization (WHO), ‘Cervical cancer’ (22 February 2022) <https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cervical-cancer> accessed 4 December 2022.

[2]World Health Organization (WHO), ‘HPV’ <https://www.who.int/teams/health-product-policy-and-standards/standards-and-specifications/vaccine-standardization/human-papillomavirus> accessed 4 December 2022.

[3] Önce Çocuklar ve Kadınlar Derneği, ‘HPV Aşısı Ücret İadesi için Hukuki Sürece Dair Açıklama’ (10 Mart 2022) <https://www.once.org.tr/hpv-asisi-ucret-iadesi-icin-hukuki-surece-dair-acikalama/> accessed 4 December 2022.

[4] Avukat Hakları Grubu, ‘Kadın Hakları Mücadelesinin Bir Paydaşı Olarak HPV Aşılarının Ulusal Aşılama Programına Alınması için Sağlık Bakanlığı’na Başvuru Yaptık ve Reddi Üzerine Dava Açtık’ <https://www.avukathaklariizmir.com/hpv-a%C5%9F%C4%B1s%C4%B1-ba%C5%9Fvurusu> accessed 4 December 2022.

[5] Bianet English, ‘Free HPV vaccination will start in Türkiye after years-long campaign’ (25 November 2022) <https://m.bianet.org/english/print/270557-free-hpv-vaccination-will-start-in-turkiye-after-years-long-campaign> accessed 4 December 2022.

[6] SoL, ‘HPV aşısı mücadelesinde ilk adım atılmıştı: Bakan Koca'nın açıklamaları ne anlama geliyor?’ (1 December .2022) <https://haber.sol.org.tr/haber/hpv-asisi-mucadelesinde-ilk-adim-atilmisti-bakan-kocanin-aciklamalari-ne-anlama-geliyor> accessed 4 December 2022.

[7] SoL, ‘Boyun Eğmeyen İlaç Emekçileri: Medeni hal ayrımı yapılmaksızın herkes HPV aşısına ulaşabilmeli’ (25 November 2022) <https://haber.sol.org.tr/haber/boyun-egmeyen-ilac-emekcileri-medeni-hal-ayrimi-yapilmaksizin-herkes-hpv-asisina-ulasabilmeli> accessed 4 December 2022.

[8] ibid.