Govt to Roll Out Cervical Cancer Vaccine

Windhoek — Government will roll out cervical cancer vaccine, or human papillomavirus vaccine, at public health facilities as cervical cancer is identified as the second most common cancer after breast cancer among Namibian women. Medical doctors and health practicitioners have welcomed the plans saying it would improve health access to poor people, as currently the vaccine is only available at private health facilities.

Dr Andemichael Ghirmay of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that human papillomavirus is among the leading causes of cancer in low and middle income countries. Human papillomavirus is a group of more than 100 viruses. Certain types of this virus can cause genital warts, which are growths that appear on the vulva, cervix, penis, groin or thigh amongst others.

A radiation oncologist at the A.B. May Cancer Centre, Dr Peggy Emvula, quoting the WHO said recent estimates in 2012 indicate that of the Namibian population of 2.1 million, 632 000 are females aged 15 and older who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. Emvula said about 117 of these women are diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. Of these, 63 succumb to the disease, she added. “Most of them are infected with HIV,” she stressed.

Minister of Health and Social Services, Dr Richard Kamwi, revealed the vaccination plans this week at the commemoration of World Cancer Day and SADC Healthy Lifestyle Day, but could not say when exactly the vaccine would be available.

“It is really a good thing,”said Dr Ndapewa Hamunime, who owns a private practice, adding that the vaccine is currently available in the private sector on prescription. “Those who did not have money were disadvantaged and those who are privileged could get it through the private sector so this is a good equaliser. Prevention is always better than cure, it’s cheaper. It might look expensive for government to provide free vaccines but in the long run it is worth it,” said Hamunime.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Cancer Association of Namibia, Reinette Koegelenberg, too welcomed government’s steps to introduce the vaccine in public hospitals and health facilities. “For patients without medical aid the vaccine is not freely available. It is a major achievement with regard to cancer prevention in women,” said Koegelenberg.

Koegelenberg said cervical cancer is on the increase in Southern Africa, primarily because many people do not practise safe sex and also because many people engage in sex with multiple partners.

She added that the ideal time for the vaccination against cervical cancer is when girls are aged between ten and twelve and before they become sexually active. “Sexually active women are advised to get the vaccine and so are young married women,” said Koegelenberg.

Emvula also said that cervical cancer is defined as a sexually transmitted disease caused by human papilomavirus, which is spread by multiple sexual partners. “Not only the diseases like HIV/AIDS and STDs but even cancer is caused by multiple sexual partners,” Emvula said.