'HPV vaccine works'
The Ministry of Health (MOH) last Wednesday hosted its first HPV Vaccine and Cervical Cancer Prevention town hall meeting at Webster Memorial United Church, in its efforts to raise awareness about, and increase uptake of, the vaccine, a primary prevention measure in the fight against cervical cancer.
Targeted at girls 11 to 13 years as part of a national immunisation programme, the response has been slow, with approximately 27 per cent of 44,000 girls receiving the first dose, while five per cent of parents have not consented, and 65 per cent are undecided.
Moderated by Dr Melody Ennis, acting director of the Family Health Unit in the Ministry of Health, who was also one of three panellists, the event first featured a series of presentations before moving into the much-anticipated question-and-answer session.
Dr Ennis, in her presentation, further outlined the burden of cervical cancer to Jamaica and the world. Since the start of the year, about 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer have been diagnosed globally, more than 85 per cent of which has been in developing countries. This is expected to lead to more than one million deaths in 2050. Locally, cervical cancer continues to be a scourge for women, being the second-highest cause of cancer-related deaths in women, and the ninth-highest cause of death in women usually within the most productive years of their lives.
It is in response to this, Dr Ennis explained that the MOH developed a comprehensive approach to cervical cancer prevention. Embracing the World Health Organization's (WHO) recom-mendation, the intervention programme sees girls ages 11 to 12, the grade-seven cohort, given two doses of the vaccine Cervarix six months apart. This initiative which began in October 2017, puts Jamaica among more than 80 countries with HPV vaccine in the national immunisation programme, some as early as 2006.
Continuing, Dr Clive Lai, obstetrician and gynaecologist and president of the medical doctor's association, spoke about the realities of cervical cancer - symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. The main cause of the disease, he explained, is the human papilloma virus (HPV), which was found in 90 per cent of all cases. Being the most common sexually transmitted infection, more than 75 percent of sexually active women tested have been exposed to HPV by age 18 to 22. But while there are many types of HPV, the majority of cervical cancer is caused by types 16 and 18 - for which the HPV vaccine offers protection.
"Why do we use the HPV vaccine? It works," Dr Abigail Harrison, paediatric and adolescent medical specialist, said. She discussed the science behind vaccines and gave an overview about the HPV vaccine, which is sanctioned by the WHO and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for children ages nine to 14 years. Having received the vaccine herself, the paediatrician explained that it is most efficient when administered before exposure to HPV, and that younger persons have a better immune response to the vaccine.