Why HPV Vaccine for girls aged 9-15 years is crucial in eliminating Cervical Cancer
Did you know that nine women
die of cervical cancer in Kenya daily yet it preventable and treatable? This
was revealed by Dr. Mary Nyangasi, Head of National Cancer Control
Program during a cervical cancer advocacy workshop at Mercure Hotel,
Nairobi on 24th January 2023.
The worrying statistics necessitated this training that brought together relevant stakeholders including county government first ladies, religious leaders, cancer warriors, County government health officials and the media to seek for a solution that can change this narrative.
This as the World marks Cervical Health Awareness Month that is observed annually in January to encourage women be more attentive to their health so that they can detect any health issues at an early stage and get access to the best treatment.
Cervical health is often neglected by majority of women yet very vital. Dr. Nyangasi pointed out that Kenya has the highest number of cancer-related deaths across East Africa with cervical cancer accounting for 3,211 deaths annually.
‘Many women are diagnosed in very advanced stages of the disease when treatment options are limited. These are mothers, sisters and wives who die of a cancer that is preventable through HPV Vaccination and screening’, Dr.Nyangasi.
Cervical cancer is caused by a persistent infection with one or more of the high-risk types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). This is a sexually transmitted viral infection among men and women.
Statistics indicate that four out of five people will have at least one type of HPV infection in their lifetime, since most infections do not cause any symptoms; most people never know that they are infected.
It takes 10-15 years for uncleared HPV infections to turn into cancer thus the need to have young girls aged 9-15 years get the HPV Vaccine to provide protection against HPV types 16 and 18 which are responsible for 70% of cervical cancer cases.
The HPV vaccine is administered in two doses, six months apart and is free of charge in public health facilities and some private hospitals. Parents and guardians are encouraged to take their girls within the recommended age to hospital for the HPV vaccine.
World Health Organization (WHO) 90-70-90 targets for the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer by 2030 proposes that 90% of girls be fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by age 15, 70% of women be screened using a high performance test by 35 years of age and 90% of women identified with pre-cancer or cancer receive treatment.
Benta Kithaka, a health advocate, champions for cervical cancer elimination through effective communication strategies. She trained the attendees on advocacy and effective communication so that they too can become cervical cancer elimination champions.
Different stakeholders and family have a role to play towards eliminating cervical cancer by 2030.
At family level, parents should ensure their girls between 9-15 years get the two doses of HPV vaccine that is offered, freely in all public and some private health facilities.
Men should avoid multiple sexual partners and encourage their partners, mothers and sisters to go for cervical cancer screening and treatment given that early detection is very instrumental in cancer treatment.
‘One of the impediments to HPV vaccine uptake is myths and misconceptions created around the vaccine, which experts have dispelled. WHO has established that HPV vaccine is safe for use and effective in prevention of cervical cancer and five other cancers which include head and neck cancer, vaginal and anal cancer, cancer of the vulvar, penile and oral cancer’, Benta Kithaka.
Opinion leaders including religious leaders and teachers have a role to play in creating more awareness and advocate for the HPV vaccine so that cervical cancer can be eliminated. They should provide platforms for communities to discuss cervical cancer prevention and support immunization in line with the Ministry of Health Guidelines. Policy leaders should advocate for availability, affordability and quality of cervical cancer screening and treatment.
Health workers on the other hand should provide factual information to communities on cervical cancer prevention and provide integrated quality healthcare services on screening, HPV vaccination, treatment and care.
Preventive interventions targeted towards desired groups are likely to have a greater impact with far-reaching implications on productivity across generations. If everyone in the society plays their role, then women in Kenya and the world at large will not die of a disease, cervical cancer, which is preventable and treatable.
As the World marks Cervical Health Awareness Month this January, reach out to a parent to take their girl (9-15) years for HPV vaccine, this could be the game changer in the fight against cervical cancer.