30 May 2019

Tanzania: Under-Vaccinated Girls Risk Contracting Cervical Cancer

THE government introduced a human papilloma virus (HPV), vaccine last year as part of the routine immunisation programme targeting girls aged 14 to protect them against cervical cancer.

Statistics show that Tanzania is among the African countries with the highest cases of cervical cancer with about 50,000 women contracting the disease annually.

Statistics from Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI), show that cervical cancer accounts for 36 per cent of all cancer patients in the country, followed by breast cancer (12.9 per cent), cancer of the oesophagus (9.8 per cent) and Kaposis Sarcoma (9.3 per cent per cent).

Cervical cancer has multiple risk factors such as early marriage, multiple sexual partners, multi-parity and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids infection, tobacco use, vitamins deficiency and HPV infection.

Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children Immunisation and Vaccine Development Programme Officer Lotalis Gadau said the government had introduced the HPV vaccine to reduce cervical cancer cases in the country.

"The government introduced the vaccine to contain the cervical cancer incidence, which was highly reported in the country and reduce treatment cost since patients could not afford it," Ms Gadau said.

She, however, noted that for the vaccine to be effective, girls were supposed to complete all requisite doses, but unfortunately some girls had not returned for the second dose.

Ms Gadau clarified that the first dose of HPV vaccine was given at any time after a girl had reached 14 years old, while the second one was administered six months after receiving the first dose.

She said in 2018, the programme targeted 625,452 girls countrywide and 500,362 girls (equivalent to 80 per cent) were expected to be reached for the second dose.

"Unfortunately, to date the 60 per cent of the girls, who received the first dose, only 33 per cent of them returned for the second dose," Ms Gadau explained.

She noted that HPV vaccine was introduced following an increase in the number of cervical cancer cases and high mortality resulting from the disease. She added that the cost of treating cervical cancer was high and could not be afforded by most women, who had contracted the disease.

"Under-vaccinated people and those, who are not vaccinated at all, are at high risk of contracting cervical cancer."

She noted that a single dose of HPV vaccine did not provide the expected body immunity.

Thus, Ms Gadau appealed to parents and guardians to ensure their children went for the second dose so that they could be prevented from the deadly disease.

For his part, the Immunisation and Vaccines Development Programme (IVDP), manager in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, Dr Dafrossa Lyimo, said one of the reasons, which might have contributed to a low turn-up for the second dose, was due to the fact that most of the girls, who had received the vaccine, were in Standard Seven so they were supposed to go for another dose after six months.

"Parents are responsible for ensuring their children go for the second dose to nearby health facilities. We are sensitising parents so that they can encourage their children to receive the required doses."

She said for the girls, who had received the vaccine last year, while in Standard Seven could go to nearby health facilities to complete their vaccination schedule.

Speaking during the launch of HPV vaccine, Ms Ummy reiterated the benefits of the vaccine to save the lives of many children, saying there was a significant drop in childhood morbidity and mortality due to vaccine preventable deaths over the years.

She further stressed the need to sustain the current immunisation programme and strengthen immunisation services, including cold chain monitoring and surveillance.

Ms Mwalimu noted that statistics showed that cervical cancer among women was the leading killer, followed by breast cancer, but it could be prevented through vaccination.

She urged parents and guardians to utilise immunisation services by taking their children to nearby health facilities so that they could be vaccinated.

The minister also reminded girls, who had received HPV vaccine against cervical cancer to go for the second dose for it to be effective.

"About 60 per cent of girls were reached last year, but most of them didn't return for the second dose, a situation that affected its effectiveness," she said.

Launching HPV vaccine in April last year, Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan said the government was committed to ensuring the vaccination target of 616,734 girls was reached and urged parents and guardians not to miss out on "the great opportunity of having their children immunised."

She reassured members of the public that the vaccine was safe and approved by the government and the World Health Organisation (WHO), and would be provided free of charge at all health facilities in the country.

Ms Suluhu emphasised the importance of screening for early detection of cervical cancer, which could be treated.

Statistics released by the Ministry of Health, Community Development , Gender, Elderly and Children during this year's commemoration of World Cancer Day, show that women turning up for cervical cancer diagnosis increased by 11 per cent last year.

The increase was attributed to the government's early detection and treatment campaign countrywide and the number of women tested for the deadly disease rose to 416,841 in 2018 from 375,522 in 2017.

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