With the help of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (Gavi), Kenya joins her neighbours in administering the free human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
The Sh.800 million project is targeting 800,000 10-year-old girls’ in its first year. It aims at reducing cases of cervical cancer in the country and will be rolled out alongside the existing routine infant vaccines.
Those vaccinated will receive an immunization card. The card will be used to, among other uses, establish their immunization status whenever travelling to other countries.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Health, with about 40, 000 new cases annually, cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among women in Kenya after breast cancer.
HPV infections are associated with genital and anal cancers, and can also cause genital warts in both men and women.
Apart from the anogenital cancers, HPV can also infect the mouth and throat and cause oropharyngeal cancer when one performs oral sex on an infected person.
The vaccine reduces the risk of developing HPV-related cancers by readying the body for the fight against the viruses that cause the infections.
The vaccine is highly effective when administered before initial exposure to the virus thus the need to vaccinate children aged 10 as they are mostly sexually inactive. For those who receive the first dose before age 15, there are only two doses required- administered six months apart.
The HPV vaccine is also recommended for boys as it will protect them from HPV infections, lower the rates of transmission of the virus, and increase immunity as it effectively prevents HPV related diseases.
Although there are more than 100 types of HPV, there are specific types that the HPV vaccine protects against, with the most common being the HPV 6, 11, 16 and 18. The former two cause about 90% of genital warts while the latter two are responsible for over 60% of cervical cancers, according to immunize.org.
It is, however, prudent to note that the HPV vaccine does not prevent every form of cervical cancer. It is, therefore, recommended that even those vaccinated continue to go for regular cervical cancer screening.
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