HEALTH CONCERN

Experts advocate for HPV vaccine to fight cancer

Nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer with HPV virus

In Summary

• Cervical cancer poses a high burden on women’s health in Kenya due to its high incidence and the poor prognosis of most patients.

• The HPV vaccine can also be given to girls beginning at age nine years.

The Nairobi Hospital Ag CEO Chris Abeid addresses the media on July 30, 2019
The Nairobi Hospital Ag CEO Chris Abeid addresses the media on July 30, 2019
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

Getting a Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine will help in the fight against cervical and penile cancers, experts have said.

The Health Ministry was to launch the vaccine as part of routine immunisation programme but the launch has since stalled since May.

Boys and girls aged 11 -12 can currently access the life-saving HPV from the Nairobi Hospital.

 
 
 

The hospital charges Sh5, 280 per dose. Three doses are recommended.

The hospital also has a ‘catch up’ programme to vaccinate older teenage girls.

Dr Angela Waweru, a resident oncologist at the hospital has associated nine out of 10 cases of cervical cancer with the HPV virus.

“Sometimes patients contract the HPV virus and fail to clear it. So as it remains it begins to cause changes in the cervix so those changes can gradually progress if left unchecked and cause cervical cancer,” Waweru said.

Cervical cancer poses a high burden on women’s health in Kenya due to its high incidence and the poor prognosis of most patients.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recommends vaccination for 11 and 12-year-old girls as well as girls and women aged 13 to 26 years who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

“If they get the HPV vaccine and in the later years are exposed to the HPV virus the vast majority have the immunity to fight it,” the medic noted.

 
 
 

The vaccine protects against the two types of HPV that cause seven out of 10 cervical cancer cases. But it does not protect against all types of HPV, so cervical screening is still important.

“It is not a magic bullet so HPV vaccine will not eradicate all viruses of cervical cancers but we know best on data but it works.”

Ideally, females should get the vaccine before they become sexually active and exposed to HPV.

 The HPV vaccine can also be given to girls beginning at age nine years.

This elevated incidence rate is related to the low screening coverage and the absence of the HPV vaccine in the national vaccination program.

Although the uptake of the HPV vaccine in Kenya is still low, vaccination has the potential to prevent most of the cervical cancers which affect 5,250 women and anal cancer which attacks 113 Kenyans every year.

According to the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, penile cancer is also on the rise with 53 Kenyans getting the disease every year and 18 dying from it.

Few Kenyans know about the vaccine and those who know it are held back by the high cost.

If the HPV vaccine becomes available in Kenya, it would provide women with ongoing protection against several high-risk HPV types.

Doctors who profess the Catholic faith have objected to the vaccination which is to be administered on all schoolgirls aged 10 years and above. The girls are to receive two doses of the vaccine.

Kenya Catholic Doctors Association argues that girls in this age group, who are classified as a high-risk population, are far too young to contract the HPV, which is the primary cause of 99.7 percent of all cervical cancer cases.


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