What you need to know:
- The HPV will pass on from person to person during coitus and 10 per cent of women will fail to clear it from their bodies effectively. It will take hold, settle in and wreak havoc on the cervix.
- Still, in spite of the virus camping in the cervix, many will still manage to keep its damage at bay.
Gabrielle sat across from me two weeks to Christmas. She was excited she was moving onto the third year of school, she was officially a senior student! Well, her height matched her status. She is a tall, confident 16-year-old who is definitely going to run this world in another decade!
I first met Gabrielle when her mum called to schedule an appointment for her. She had started her menses at 12 and they were not behaving well at all. By the time she was heading to high school, things were under control and Gabrielle was adjusting well to adolescence. However, she made a deal with her mum. She would visit the office every school holiday she was home, for her regular follow-up!
At the beginning, I talked to Gabrielle and her mum about the cervical cancer vaccine as she was of age for it. We talked about cervical cancer, its link to the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, the different subtypes of the virus and how they cause the disease. Further, we discussed how the vaccine works and why it is best given to those who are not yet exposed to the virus in order to get the best vaccine response and protection.
Gabrielle’s mum thought that the vaccine was a good idea. She decided to discuss it with the dad and then plan for when Gabrielle could get the shots. Months passed and I made a point to discreetly remind them about it but it appeared they were not ready. During this last visit, Gabriella came to the clinic accompanied by her dad. He opted to sit out the consultation and attend an online meeting instead.
Gabrielle then went on to snitch on her parents, stating that they had refused to agree on the vaccine. When her mum brought up the conversation about the vaccine with her chama friends, several of them were vehemently against it. They argued that the vaccine caused life-threatening side effects and that Gabrielle did not need to take that risk yet she was a good Christian girl raised with strong morals, hence would never be at risk of exposure to the HPV.
Gabrielle’s mum was torn and she developed cold feet about her daughter getting vaccinated. She opted out, something that her dad disagreed with. The two were still locked in a battle of wills about the vaccine while Gabrielle got older. The lively young lady simply rolled her eyes and calmly stated that if they were still arguing about it on her 18th birthday, she will gift herself the vaccine as she will still be eligible for it.
Barely two weeks later, the country paid tribute to the eminent Ms Catherine Kiza Kasavuli, a pioneer in the media industry, the very first ever female anchor in Kenya. Saying goodbye to Catherine has been a major blow for most of us who literally grew up knowing that she was KBC news and KBC news was Catherine.
The first time I saw an online call to help fundraise for Catherine’s medical care I was heartbroken. The reality of just how much cervical cancer is an impoverishing disease sank one more time. The vicious cycle of delayed diagnosis; expensive, draining, and uncomfortable treatments; the distress caused to the patient and their loved ones; and the imminent loss of life is something that needs to stop!
The day after Catherine rested, I received a text message from Gabriella’s mum. She asked how soon Gabriella could come in for her vaccine. True to her word, Gabriella was scheduled for her shot on the first day of resuming office. Her mum confessed that Catherine’s demise shook her in a way she had never imagined. She would no longer play Russian roulette with her only daughter’s life.
As parents, we never imagine our little angels will grow up and become women who will make their own sexual choices. We refuse to acknowledge that they will never come to us to seek permission to engage in sex, neither will they seek approval of who their partner will be. Cervical cancer largely remains a sexually transmitted disease. It does not depend on a person’s age, race, religion, moral inclination, or personality.
The HPV will pass on from person to person during coitus and 10 per cent of women will fail to clear it from their bodies effectively. It will take hold, settle in and wreak havoc on the cervix. Still, in spite of the virus camping in the cervix, many will still manage to keep its damage at bay.
The HPV vaccine is given to all young women in the hope of saving maybe two to three in every 100 women. This number is still one too many. This is not a betting game. You and I today as parents, we have no clue what our daughters’ lives will look like two decades from today. The least we can do is protect them.
After all, in infancy, we fought to protect them from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis, polio, tuberculosis and measles. Why are we balking now when we can vaccinate them against this destructive cancer that takes no hostages?
The Ministry of Health has provided the cervical cancer vaccine at our public hospitals for all girls aged nine to 14 years, for free. Make the choice today to secure your daughter’s future!
Dr Bosire is an obstetrician/gynaecologist