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Medics seek men’s help in boosting uptake of HPV jab among women

Health & Science

Medic attending to Zipporah Wangeci,82, at Central Park in Nanyuki Town, Laikipia County. January 19, 2021. [Mose Sammy, Standard]

The Ministry of Health is now using men as advocates in its efforts to boost the uptake of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.

Men are carriers of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) virus that causes cervical cancer but are hardly vaccinated under the HPV vaccination programme.

According to Dr Andrew Mulwa, the Acting Director of Medical Services they resolved to rope in men in the vaccination programme they are decision-makers at family and community levels. 

HPV vaccine was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2019, but the programme has faced various challenges which have hampered uptake.

Data from the ministry reveals that 1.3 million girls out of three million have received HPV shots.

Prof Julius Oyugi, Director of Research, University of Nairobi Institute of Tropical and Infectious Diseases, explained that HPV is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract which affects sexually active men and women.

Just like coronavirus which has different variants. Infection with certain HPV types can cause cancer.

Prof Oyugi noted that HPV vaccines can prevent one from getting infected with cancer, reasons why women are the main focus, in the vaccination programme.

“HPV causes penile cancer but this is not as common as cancer of the cervix. Women are therefore the main focus of vaccination because of the high burden of cancer of cervix associated with HPV,” said the virologist.

But with adequate doses of vaccine, men can as well be vaccinated.

Countries like the USA, Canada, Austria, and Australia recommend gender-neutral vaccination.

“Men could be vaccinated with HPV vaccines, but the reason why women are the focus is because of the high burden of the cervix that is associated with HPV in women.

If the country could have more supply of HPV vaccines, it would be advisable to vaccinate men, alongside women, to prevent transmission of the virus between men and women,” explained Prof Oyugi.

He explained that the vaccine enhances the production of antibodies that protect an individual from getting the virus in the future.

Unlike Covid-19 whose immunity wanes with time, the HPV vaccine provides full protection against getting infected with the virus.

“HPV vaccines produce antibodies that kill the virus even if exposed to it. This is why we are encouraging girls to go for the jab,” added Prof Oyugi.

The World Health Organisation notes that cervical cancer is the most common HPV-related disease, with nearly all cases of cervical cancer attributed to HPV infection.

In Kenya, at least 33 out of 100,000 women have cervical cancer. Over 49,000 new cases were diagnosed in 2018. At least nine women die of cervical cancer deaths every day.

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