To eliminate cervical cancer one day, the key is vaccinating young girls
The Western Cape Department of Health and Wellness supports ongoing efforts to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat one day. An effective way in which it does this is through improving access for young girls to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination.
HPV vaccination is administered annually by injection in two doses to eligible girls through the department’s school immunisation programme. To date, nearly 23 000 HPV booster vaccines have been administered in schools between September and October 2023. Parents and guardians have until 31 October to consent and vaccinate their daughters.
The department has a stellar track record of administering the HPV vaccine in the public sector to Grade 5 schoolgirls. Since 2014, nearly 300 000 girls aged nine and older have been vaccinated against HPV. This vaccine prevents the infection of HPV in girls and protects them against developing cervical cancer in adulthood.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer in women living in low resource countries (second only to breast cancer) and the fourth most common cancer cause of death in women globally after breast, colorectal and lung cancer.
For many years, the province’s largest public health facility, Tygerberg Hospital, has remained at the forefront of advanced cervical cancer treatment in the country. “At Tygerberg Hospital, our obstetrics and gynaecology specialists treat more than 320 new cases of cervical cancer each year. Therefore, it remains a very important and serious problem. Women are often diagnosed when the disease is far advanced and difficult to treat,” said Dr Hennie Botha, Executive Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Tygerberg Hospital and Stellenbosch University.
According to Dr Botha, HPV vaccination is the right thing to do for the future health of our country. “Vaccination works extremely well to provide long-term prevention against HPV infection and all the diseases that it may cause. If enough young girls are vaccinated, cervical cancer can disappear completely.” The department’s HPV vaccination programme forms part of global efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO) to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat by 2030. The first step towards this goal is to have 90% of girls fully vaccinated against HPV by the age of 15. With wide vaccination coverage of girls over the age of nine, it is possible to eliminate HPV as a human pathogen.