Myths slow down fight against cervical cancer in Wajir

HPV vaccine.

Photo credit: File photo

Last February Wajir County, in partnership with the Health Care Global Cancer Centre Kenya (HCGCCK), conducted cancer screening for women and girls at the Wajir Referral Hospital.

Of the 30 women who were screened, eight turned positive for cervical cancer.

These figures painted a grim picture of how women and girls in the county were suffering in silence from the leading cause of deaths among women in Kenya.

According to the 2019 Human Papillomavirus and Related Diseases report, 5,250 new cervical cancer cases are diagnosed annually in Kenya. It is also the first and most common female cancer in women aged between 15 and 44 years in Kenya.

But, despite the alarming figures, women in Wajir are hesitant to take up the HPV vaccine immunisation.

According to Mr Hassan Ibrahim, the Wajir County Health Records and Information Manager, only 71 girls have received the HPV vaccine in the last six months in the county.

The low uptake of HPV vaccine in the county has been blamed on myths and misconceptions with regard to the long-term effects of the vaccine.

The County Immunisation coordinator Sahara Adow says that despite the availability of the vaccines in most of their facilities across the county, many parents are reluctant to take their daughters to hospital due to lack of knowledge on its importance and fear that it could harm them.

"The concern of the community is that the target group is only girls aged 10 and they are asking why girls only and why that age bracket. From our assessment the community feels like they are not being told everything about the vaccine, making them unsure about it,” she said.

She explained that they are targeting 10-year-olds only because of resource constraints and the fact that most of them are not yet sexually active making the chances of its success higher.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends the HPV vaccine to young adolescent girls, aged 9-14 years.

Cultural beliefs

Ms Adow further argued that misinformation on how the vaccination is conducted and cultural beliefs are also contributing to the low HPV uptake.

"In some areas, people believe that the vaccine is injected directly at the cervix yet it is administered in the arm and because of fear of injection they fail to visit the facilities for the vaccine, " she added.

In a bid to counter misinformation with regard to the HPV vaccination and create awareness, the Kenya Aids NGOs Consortium (KANCO) has, in partnership with the County Government, trained journalists, community health volunteers and religious leaders about the vaccine in efforts to ensure that residents are fed the right information.

"Despite our efforts to sensitise the community on the importance of the HPV vaccine, we are still seeing a slow response. That is why we’ve decided to bring all these stakeholders on board to ensure the right message reaches the grassroots," she said.

According to Mr Ibrahim, the outbreak of Covid-19 in the country has greatly affected immunisation in the county.

Currently, the number of unimmunised children in the county stands at 14,991.

Wagberi ward in Wajir East leads with the highest number of unimmunised children at1,289 followed by Benane ward at 1,242.

Insecurity in some parts of Wajir, which led to the closure of some hospitals in parts of Wajir East and Tarbaj Sub-Counties, has also been blamed for the low number of immunised children.

Other factors include high staff turnover, nomadic lifestyle and attitude of parents towards immunisation.

Mr Ibrahim said they have embarked on the process to improve community engagements to encourage immunisation and also create a strong defaulter tracing mechanism to trace those who have dropped out of the immunisation process.

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