In a world where the threat of cervical cancer casts a long shadow over the lives of countless women, hope emerged in the form of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
Cervical Cancer is caused by the Papillomavirus type 16 and 18 which also causes vulva, vagina, penis, anus, mouth, and throat cancers, this affects at least half of all sexually active women.
Evidence from the World Health Organization shows that more than 95% of cervical cancer is caused by sexually transmitted HPV, the fourth most common type of cancer in women globally with 90% of these women living in low- and middle-income countries.
Uganda has a population of 13.1 million women ages 15 years and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Current estimates indicate that every year 6959 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 4607 die from the disease, it ranks as the 1st most frequent cancer among women in Uganda and the 1st most frequent cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age.
Amidst these sobering statistics, efforts to raise awareness about the importance of regular screenings and HPV vaccinations have gained momentum, aiming to empower communities in their fight against cervical cancer. Busoga Health Forum with funding from PATH under the Gavi PEF/TCA framework is working toward the Improvement of HPV Vaccination Coverage in the Busoga Sub Region.
It was during a virtual meeting organized and hosted by Busoga Health Forum that Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, a senior lecturer in the Department of Pediatrics at Makerere University School of Medicine, is a pediatrician and specialist in pediatric infectious diseases, with a strong focus on HIV/ AIDS infections among adolescents, shared her expertise on the Value of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines.
Driven by a clear commitment to eradicating cervical cancer, Dr. Sabrina delved into the intricacies of HPV and its relationship with this devastating disease. She emphasized that this vaccine isn’t merely a medical intervention, it’s rather a key strategy for comprehensive cervical cancer control and prevention. It should be noted that in 2015 Uganda launched a universal HPV vaccine program targeting girls aged 10. Since then, over 8 million girls have been vaccinated.
Building upon this commitment, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization reached a significant conclusion. They determined that a single dose of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine provides substantial protection against HPV.
In light of the available evidence, SAGE recommended that countries now have the option to choose between a one- or two-dose schedule for girls aged 9–14 and women aged 15 to 20. This represents a substantial stride toward achieving the WHO’s global strategy to expedite the eradication of cervical cancer.
What’s even more amazing is that the full benefits of this vaccine will continue to unfold not just in the years to come, but even in the decades that follow, creating a lasting shield against this devastating disease.
However, amidst the progress, significant challenges persist. These challenges manifest as vaccine hesitancy and negative attitudes entrenched within certain communities. Moreover, concerns loom regarding the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Negative religious and cultural beliefs cast a shadow on vaccination efforts, while rumors and misconceptions further complicate matters. Mistrust in government intentions to introduce the new vaccine targeting girls adds another layer of complexity.
To overcome these obstacles, a multi-pronged strategy is imperative. The need to address parents’ questions and misconceptions requires innovative approaches. Dr. Sabrina shrewdly highlighted the significance of leveraging tools like a comic book to bridge knowledge gaps, fostering demand for the vaccine. However, this discourse transcends the realm of medicine; it’s about community engagement, empowerment, and dismantling myths.
Concerns about vaccine safety, potential side effects, and the misguided notion that vaccination might spur increased sexual activity. It’s pivotal to also shed light on the fact that boys stand to benefit from the vaccine, given the undeniable link between HPV and various cancers afflicting males. In this urgent endeavor, countries must strengthen their HPV vaccination programs. Swift implementation and the reversal of coverage declines are critical.
The vital mission to eradicate cervical cancer hinges on reinforcing efforts, engaging communities, and fostering a collective commitment to health and well-being.
This article is written by by Amoit Judith Grace and sponsored by Busoga Health Forum