The Kenyan government is launching a project to protect girls against cervical cancer in two weeks, even as doctors affiliated to the Catholic Church have contested the move citing a myriad of health complications.
The Ministry of Health will give 10-year-old girls two free doses of the vaccine against the cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV). The doses will be administered six months apart. About 9,000 public, private and faith-based facilities countrywide are taking part in the vaccination program.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends vaccination of all girls and screening, at least once every year, for older women to reduce cancer risk, and the vaccine is most effective when administered between the ages of nine and 14.
There are about 100 types of HPV, of which at least 14 cause cancer. Two HPV types (16 and 18) cause 70 percent of cervical cancers and cervical lesions.
The ministry met its partners Tuesday morning in preparation for the HPV national roll-out and to touch base on the local cancer landscape.
“The HPV vaccine is an extraordinary vaccine. It is the most effective means of preventing cervical cancer and is very safe. I am also a father of girls and all of them have received the vaccine. By vaccinating our girls against HPV we are preventing the disease for life. They will be able to grow, live up to their full potential and prosper,” said WHO Kenya Rep Dr. Rudi Eggers, during the briefing.
However, the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA), questioned the decision to have 10-year-old girls vaccinated against HPV.
The group argues that 10-year-old girls are not sexually active and therefore not at risk of contracting HPV or other STDs.
“It makes neither logical nor scientific sense to expose children to a vaccine for a sexually transmitted disease that they are not at risk of contracting. These children must be protected by everyone including the government from promiscuity and helped to remain chaste,” KCDA chairman, Dr. Stephen Karanja, in a statement.
The MoH targets to reduce cases of cancer of the cervix — the second most common in Kenya after breast cancer, according to recent statistics released by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.
The disease claims about seven women in Kenya every day, about 3,000 per year, according to statistics from the MoH.
There are about 40,000 new cervical cancer cases annually. Globally, it is the fourth most frequent cancer in women.
“It is unfortunate that we lose seven women to cancer every day. This is preventable through vaccination. If you prevent HPV infection then you can prevent cervical cancer,” said the Ministry of Health Head of Immunisation, Dr. Collins Tabu, during the stakeholders meeting held Tuesday.