Hope as state ready for cervical cancer vaccine launch

After many false starts, the roll-out of human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine will finally start next month.

Dr Collins Tabu, head of National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme in the Ministry of Health hinted at this during a media briefing in Nairobi yesterday.

“Launching of the vaccination programme needs proper planning to ensure sustainability and continuity,” said Dr Tabu. The immunisation drive will target girls aged 10 and hopes to reach 800,000 girls in schools.

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The learners will be given two doses spread within six months.

Dr Mary Nyangasi, Head of Kenya Cancer Control Programme, said cases of cancer of the cervix have been increasing. “In Kenya, most patients with cervical cancer present late and this leads to a lot of costs in treatment; if we can prevent then it means we shall use less compared to what could have been spent to treat in future,” said Dr Nyangasi.

Six months

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HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer at 99 per cent and health professionals argue that the best bet against it is through vaccination.

Dr Tabu said the vaccine has been used in Kenya for 20 years and this is just the massive roll-out by getting it into the routine immunisation programme. Two types of HPV – 16 and 18 – are most responsible for causing cervical cancer that kills nine women in Kenya daily, according to the ministry.

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The Ministry of Health notes that only about one in six women who should be screened for cervical cancer have been screened.

This leaves many out there, which is why the ministry is seeking to curtail more cases.

Dr Mary Nyangasi, the head of Kenya Cancer Control Programme, says cases of cancer of the cervix have been increasing. In 2012, there were 4,800 cases with 2,400 deaths while in 2018, the number jumped to 5,250 with 3,280 deaths.

Civil society actors have lauded the government’s move to roll out this vaccine. Benda Kithaka of Women 4 Cancer Early Detection and Treatment said prevention of cervical cancer is key to reducing avoidable deaths.

“Integration of HPV vaccination into the routine health system; strengthening of systems and getting the communities to act is a sure way of reducing the deaths of women from cervical cancer,” said Kithaka.

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Kenya has the highest rates of cervical cancer in East Africa and will join 115 other countries worldwide once the vaccination drive is launched.

Rwanda launched its HPV vaccination drive in 2006 and statistics show it has cut cervical cancer cases by half.

Since 2006, more than 270 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed worldwide.

Safety update of HPV vaccines note that the Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has reviewed studies and reported adverse events and found no evidence of health risks that require changes to vaccine policy.

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CancerCervical cancerhuman papilloma virusHPV