On November 17, the world marked the inaugural year of a historic movement. It celebrated the first year the world committed to eliminate cancer. Then the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) released an encouraging report on the KENya Single-dose HPV-vaccine Efficacy (KEN SHE) Study, pertaining to the trials on the single-dose HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine.
Kemri’s three-year research found that a single shot of the HPV vaccine for cervical cancer more effective than the current three-shot regime.
In Kenya, cervical cancer is the second most common of the cancers that afflict women, after breast cancer. It’s the leading cause of illness and death among women.
The Global Cancer Observatory, an interactive web-based platform presenting global cancer statistics to inform cancer control and research, reported through the International Agency for Research on Cancer that last year , there were 2,236 new cases of cervical cancer in Kenya, afflicting 19. 7 per cent of the population across women of all ages, with 3,211 deaths the same year.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases are linked to infection with high-risk HPV. An extremely common virus, HPV is transmitted through sexual contact.
HPV can cause cervical and other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina , penis or anus.
The CDC estimates that there were 43 million HPV infections in 2018. In the same year, there were 13 million new infections.
WHO says that cervical cancer mortality rates in most developing countries have been unchanged over 30 years due to limited access to health services, lack of awareness and absence of screening and treatment.
The single-dose HPV vaccine will be a big deal for women. If given to young girls, aged nine to 13, it will protect them from HPV and, therefore, against cervical cancer.
The vaccine will also help curb challenges associated with multiple doses, such as vaccine delivery and low uptake of the second dose and the global HPV vaccine shortage. It will also simplify logistics and decrease costs.
With the new vaccine , the government and other stakeholders should initiate robust advocacy and strategic partnership that will oversee the vaccine distributed and include the immunisation programmes in all parts of the country. Creation of awareness can also be scaled up to ensure there is enough information and to demystify myths about HPV vaccines, such as infertility after being vaccinated.
That will not only reduce the incidence of HPV-attributable cervical and other cancers, but also help WHO to achieve its goal to have 90 per cent of 15-year-old girls inoculated against HPV by 2030.
Dorothy Pamella, Kisumu