NAMIBIA – Namibia has approved the procurement and introduction of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to teenagers for the prevention of cervical cancer.

HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual contact and most people are infected with HPV shortly after the onset of sexual activity. More than 90% of them clear the infection eventually.

Cabinet initially approved vaccinating 10% of about 40 000 girls between ages nine and 14, before rolling out in three years to 70% of the target population.

According to a statement, the Cabinet supported the procurement of the Gardasil vaccine through the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and authorised the health ministry to embark upon a communication campaign to educate the public on the importance of HPV vaccines for cervical cancer prevention and control.

“We are busy with preparations for the introduction of HPV vaccines. Once ready, we shall inform the public and embark on awareness campaigns,” said health minister Dr Kalumbi Shangula yesterday when contacted by Vital Signs.

Current estimates indicate that 236 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year and 135 die from the disease; among those aware of the disease, low utilisation of screening tests has been reported, this making cervical cancer the second most prevalent cancer in Namibia, after breast cancer.

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that HPV vaccination is recommended at ages 11–12 but can be given starting at age nine.

All preteens need HPV vaccination, so they are protected from HPV infections that can cause cancer later in life. CDC recommends that 11-12-year-olds receive two doses of HPV vaccine six to 12 months apart.

The World Health Organisation said in 2019, over 100 countries around the world introduced the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) into their national schedules.

Kenya’s former president Uhuru Kenyatta launched the HPV vaccine, ranking the east African nation the 16th country on the continent to introduce the vaccine into its routine immunisation schedule.

The vaccine is offered countrywide alongside other routine infant vaccines through public, private, faith-based and NGO health facilities, and is administered free of charge, to 800 000 10-year-old girls.

“The HPV vaccine saves lives, as it can prevent most cervical cancer cases. Vaccination for adolescent girls is the most cost-effective public health measure against cervical cancer, and it is one of the key pillars of a comprehensive strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health issue,” stated WHO.

“The other two pillars focus on screening and treating pre-cancerous lesions and the treatment of cervical cancer cases, and palliative care.”

The organisation further added that the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem is within reach for all countries.

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