Girls aged 12 targeted in vaccination against deadly cervical cancer

Monday February 10 2020

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Last year, 1,304 cases were recorded in the country, with 921 deaths arising from the age group classified as high-risk 

ARAFAT MUGABO
By ARAFAT MUGABO
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Rwanda will roll out a cervical cancer vaccination, which targets about 145,000 girls aged 12 in efforts to fight one of the deadliest cancers.

A 2019 Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases Report on Rwanda indicates that 3.9 million girls below the age of 15 are at risk of suffering from cervical cancer.

Currently, Rwanda has registered 93 per cent cervical cancer vaccination coverage among girls aged 12 years even though new cases continue to rise.

Last year, the country registered 1,304 cases of cervical cancer and 921 deaths of women in this age group, who are classified as highrisk for the disease.

A memorandum of understanding signed in December 2010 between Merck & Co, an American pharmaceutical company, and the government guaranteed Rwanda three years of vaccinations at no cost and concessional prices for future doses, according to World Health Organisation (WHO).

Merck’s quadrivalent Gardasil (Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine) is prequalified by WHO.

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The Ministry of Health will give two free doses of the vaccine against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV).

The HPV vaccination will be administered depending on areas that are assumed to have more girls who are sexually active in all 30 districts of the country.

According to Dr Francois Uwinkindi, director of cancer control unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer in Rwanda.

“Majority women go for cancer screening and treatment in late stages of the condition, we decided each year to enrol HPV vaccination to ensure young girls are protected,” said Dr Uwinkindi.

“The Human Papillomavirus vaccine is an extraordinary vaccine. It is the most effective and safe means of preventing cervical cancer. By vaccinating our girls against HPV we are preventing the disease from life. They will be able to grow, live up to their full potential and prosper,” said Dr Uwinkindi.

He said they have continued to work with community leaders, churches, village elders, health workers, schools and the media, to eradicate dispel myths around the vaccine to those who still deny their children from being vaccinated.

However, public awareness is still needed to bring more parents on board as some parents have expressed concerns about the side effects of the vaccine.

Though medical professionals insist the vaccine is safe and the side effects are minimal.

For instance, Easter Mukankuranga, a mother of three girls and one boy, said she is not ready to allow her children to be vaccinated fearing that the vaccine has abilities to cause cancer and infertility.

“We hear girls who get the vaccine get allergic reactions and serious complications, which could also lead to other diseases before their twenties,” said Ms Mukankuranga.

“We want the government to educate us more on this vaccine before they give it to our children and stop doing it without our notice while they are at school.

The initiative is good but we must first understand how safe the vaccine is to them,” she added.

Dr Uwinkindi added that some people could have mild side effects when they get the vaccine, such as pain, redness or swelling at the site of injection but they usually pass quickly.

WHO recommends vaccination of all girls and screening, at least once every year and the vaccine is most effective when administered between the ages of nine and 14.

The national rollout of the free vaccination will be offered alongside other routine infant vaccines in schools and through public, private and faith-based health facilities countrywide.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women and the biggest cause of cancer deaths.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of all cervical cancer cases.

A report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the WHO, in 2008 Rwanda had 34.5 cases and 25.4 deaths attributable to cervical cancer per 100,000 citizens.

The report added that at the time, the incidence of cervical cancer among women in the country appears to be higher than the combined incidence of breast, liver and stomach cancers despite the government’s efforts to develop a national strategic plan for cervical cancer prevention.

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