THE ministry of health and child care (MoHCC) in collaboration with partners has rolled out a countrywide Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine with the aim of preventing young girls from contracting the virus when they become sexually active.
By Michael Gwarisa
The program is targeting girls aged nine to 14 who are believed not to be sexually active and yet to contract the HPV virus which is responsible for 99% of Cervical Cancers.
Briefing Journalists Wednesday morning in Harare, Health and Child care minister, Dr David Parirenyatwa said the roll-out would target every young girl within the stipulated ages regardless of race, political affiliation and background.
“This country is now known for preventing, preventing and preventing and this is one method that we will use to prevent cancer of the cervix among women. We can prevent early especially in those children that have not yet indulged in sex. We know that cervical cancer is caused by the HPV virus which is spread sexually.
“So if we can prevent before they indulge, then we are helping to prevent those women catching cancer at all. Cancer refers to a situation whereby abnormal cells starts to grow very very quickly. Its something that we can prevent, in our own population in Zimbabwe, if you take 100 000 women, 35 may have cervical cancer,” said Dr Parirenyatwa.
According to statistics, from UNICEF, the incidence of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe is reported to be 34.5 per 100 000 women as compared to global coverage of 15.1. Annually, they are about 2270 new cases and about 1452 people die as a result whereas 99 percent of cervical cancer cases are associated with the HPV.
“I am told these cancer causing strains are strain 16 and cancer strain 18 and these are easily prevented against. We think if we start vaccinating girls at nine years, we would have done great because some girls start indulging at 10. We are targeting girls aged nine to 14, white, black, we are not discriminating against anyone here.
“They have to have two doses for it to be effective. We also want to incorporate it in EPI programs. This year we have the 8th edition of the African vaccination celebrations which will run under the theme Vaccines work.”
Meanwhile, UNICEF Chief of Health and Nutrition, Neimudin Bilal said the program was successfully piloted in two districts and has proven to be effective without any side effects.
“Cervical cancer is a big public health problem for Zimbabwe, the incidence of cervical cancer is reported to be 35 per 100 000 women. The incidence of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe is reported to be 34.5 per 100 000 women as compared to global coverage of 15.1.Having realized the gravity of Cervical Cancer in Zimbabwe, MohCC with support from partners such as World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF and others, introduced the pilot project for the HPV virus in 2014/15.
“This pilot project has laid a foundation that will accelerate the scaling up of efforts to reduce the risk caused by the HPV. Two districts were selected first, which are Beitbridge and Marondera and later Kwekwe was also selected for the piloting. Out of this pilot, 4 505 girls were reached with second dose of HPV. The demo project achieved 88.4 percent coverage and one of the main achievements of this pilot is that it has managed to reach 46 000 school children,” said Bilal.
He added that they are working out plans to reach out even to girls whop are out of school with the program so as to achieve inclusive nationwide results.
WHO Officer in Charge, Dr Juliet Naybyonga said the roll out of the HPV vaccine would reduce the cancer burden Zimbabwe is currently faced with.
“Cervical Cancer is the second most common cancer in women and and we have statics for 2012, which show that 270 000 women died from cervical cancer globally. 85 percent of these deaths occur in low income countries. In most countries including Zimbabwe, cervical cancer is leading cause of cancer deaths.
“By 2050, its is estimated that 1 million women will be diagnosed with Cervical cancer worldwide and 90 percent of these will be women residing in middle income countries. Cervical Cancer is caused by sexually acquired infection and a virus called the HPV, two types account for 70 percent of cervical cancers which are type 16 and type 18.
“Women with normal immunity, the pre-cancerous lesions take a while to progress into cancers, lets say 15 to 20 years but the duration is much lower in the immunity compromised women, for example HIV affected individuals who are not on treatment, it can take five to 10 years,” said Dr Naybonga.
She added that the risk factors for HPV include early engagement in sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partners, smoking and also HIV infected individuals are also at greater risk.
HPV Vaccines prevent over 95 percent of infections from the the two types of HPV 16 and 18. The vaccine has been used in several countries and 71 countries have already adopted HPV vaccines in their national immunisation program and has served millions of girls.
“As recent as 2017, In East and southern Africa, six countries have already introduced HPV vaccines nationwide and for 2018 we have three countries lined up and Zimbabwe being one them and also Ethiopia and Tanzania.”