All teenage girls should be vaccinated against cervical cancer


A cancer patient being screened at the Kenyatta National Hospital. [File, Standard]

The Ministry of Health has commenced a 100-days immunization against childhood diseases through rapid result results initiative.

The immunization will include a second dose of measles-rubella and Human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Acting Health Director General Dr Patrick Amoth notes that at least 300,000 infants miss critical vaccines every year, yet immunization is one of the most cost-effective public health interventions in the reduction of childhood diseases.

Dr Amoth said that outbreaks of measles continue to occur in different parts of the country, evidence of the low immunity to measles and "any child between 18 and 59 months who have not received the two disease of measles-rubella should be presented at the nearest immunization facility for vaccination.”  

Dr Amoth added “all girls aged 10 to 14 years should be vaccinated with HPV to provide protection against cervical cancer.”

In Kenya, at least 33 out of 100,000 women have cervical cancer of which 49, 000 new cases were diagnosed in 2018 alone and 33,000 deaths reported.

At least nine women die every day due to cancer and the Ministry of Health introduced the HPV vaccine into the routine immunisation schedule in 2019, with an aim of reaching out to 700,000 girls every year.

But the vaccine has faced challenges of vaccine delivery, low uptake of the second dose coupled with global HPV vaccine shortages.

HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract and affects both men and women who are sexually active.

Infection with certain HPV types also causes a proportion of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis and oropharynx, which are preventable using similar primary prevention strategies as those for cervical cancer.

Although most HPV infections clear up on their own and most pre-cancerous lesions resolve spontaneously, research has revealed that HPV infection may become chronic and pre-cancerous lesions that progress to invasive cervical cancer.

Every year, the Ministry of Health targets to vaccinate at least 1.5 million children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, polio, Tuberculosis (TB), diarrhoea and pneumonia.

“Over the years, immunization has resulted in at least 70 per cent reduction of in death and illness from infectious diseases,” Dr Amoth noted.

According to the Ministry, insecurity in Northern and North-Eastern parts of the country affects vaccination coverage.

Physical access of vaccination services in some vast sparsely populated counties of Turkana, Marsabit, Garissa, Mandera and Wajir has also remained a challenge.

Dr Amoth added that immunisation conducted through the ministry’s Division of National Vaccines and Immunisation Program is also aimed at vaccinating 70 per cent of girls aged between ten and fourteen years.

He noted that although the ministry of health strives to reach a least 90 per cent of children with lifesaving vaccines, immunisation coverage as stagnated at 80 per cent with some of the vaccines like Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and the second dose of measles-rubella vaccine falling behind at 30 percent and 50 percent respectively.

There is also the disparity between counties with some counties having a pentavalent vaccination coverage of as low as 60 per cent.

The gap in vaccination means there are several children who do not have immunity against these vaccine-preventable diseases.

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