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Residents encouraged to promote HPV vaccination in schools

Residents of Thika West Sub-County have been asked to embrace the anti-Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programme ongoing in local schools as the vaccines have been tested and approved by the World Health Organisation.

Speaking during the rollout of the campaign at the ACK Thika Memorial School, the Sub-County Reproductive Health Officer, Jane Macharia, said the speculations against the approved vaccines were baseless and meant to derail government efforts to fight cervical cancer among Kenyan women.

“We are targeting 10,000 girls aged between 10 and 14 years with the first dose of the vaccine. I say first dose because for a girl’s immune system to be fully protected from infection, she requires a second dose six months after receiving the first one,” Ms. Macharia explained.

Commenting on the controversy surrounding the vaccine’s rollout in schools in the larger Kiambu region, Macharia added, “The process of convincing the parents to allow their daughters to take part in the exercise has not been easy as a lot of conspiracy theories on the purpose of the vaccine are being peddled both online and offline. However, all these rumours are not based on solid scientific evidence.”

The two-week programme is being provided primarily through schools in the area. The vaccine is, however, also available at the local public health facilities free of charge to girls who are unable to attend school.

According to the Kenya HPV Information Centre fact sheet, 16.8 million females aged 15 years and older are at risk of developing cervical cancer. The fact sheet indicates that every year, over 5,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, of whom over 3,000 die of the disease.

Besides, cervical cancer ranks as the second most prevalent cancer among women in Kenya and the second most frequent cancer among women aged between 15 and 44 years of age. About 9.1% of women in the general population are estimated to experience cervical HPV infections at any given time.

Cervical cancers are caused by HPV, which spreads through sexual contact. Most people get HPV at some point in their lives and do not realise it because their bodies fight the infection. However, if the immunity levels fall, eventually the HPV morphs into cancerous cells.

HPV vaccines work best if administered prior to exposure to HPV. Therefore, to prevent cervical cancer, the World Health Organisation recommends vaccinating girls from the ages of 10 to 14 years, when most have not begun engaging in sexual relations.

“The Department is urging parents to ensure their daughters receive the HPV vaccine. It is safe, effective, and can prevent up to 90% of HPV-related cancers, so they can be assured that their daughters are protected from this preventable infection,” said Macharia.

The pilot launch of the vaccine was administered in October 2019 in Kitui County, with Kenya becoming the 11th country to roll out an immunisation programme against the HPV virus.

“However, disruptions in the programme occurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but the government is now on course to ensure that 800,000 girls nationwide receive the vaccine in order to be assured of protection from the cervical cancer inducing virus,” stated Macharia.

By Hellen Lunalo

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