Cervical cancer vaccine to be introduced in Zimbabwe
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The HPV vaccine is a prophylactic vaccine which stimulates the body's immune system to produce neutralising antibodies that kill HPV in the skin cells of a woman's genital area.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. Various strains of the HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cases of cervical cancer.
Medical practitioners are positive that the vaccine will prevent most cases of cervical cancer in the future.
Dr Anna Nyakabau, a consultant clinical oncologist, said investing in a proven cost-effective cervical cancer vaccine was a prudent choice.
"It is surely a relief to our country to introduce the HPV vaccine because it is cost-effective. The cost of the vaccine is a fraction of the cost of cancer treatment.
"Though the only company that applied to the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe is still waiting for the go-ahead to supply the vaccine in the country, it gives us the hope to become a cervical cancer-free nation," she said.
When exposed to HPV, a woman's immune system typically prevents the virus from doing harm. In few women, however, the virus survives for years, contributing to the process that causes some cells on the surface of the cervix to become cancer cells.
In Zimbabwe, cervical cancer is the second cause of high mortality after Kaposi's sarcoma.
Despite the fact that cervical cancer is preventable and curable, many women are succumbing to it in Zimbabwe. Dr Nyakabau said the HPV vaccine would be administered to girls between the ages of nine and 12 because sexual debut was unlikely at this age.
"Early vaccination is ideal because sexual debut is unlikely at this age and it is best to get vaccinated at a young age when the immune system is at its strongest and therefore will mount a healthy antibody response to the vaccine," she added.
Research suggests that vaccine protection is long-lasting. Current studies indicate that the vaccine is effective for a period of 10 to 20 years, with no evidence of decreasing immunity. According to a World Health Organisation report, cancer of the cervix is the second most common cancer in women worldwide, with about 500 000 new cases and 250 000 deaths each year.
Almost 80 percent of cases occur in low-income countries, where cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women. Virtually all cervical cancer cases (99 percent) are linked to genital infection with HPV, which is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.
Medical experts posit that the vaccine does not protect against all HPV types and it is important for women to continue being screened for cervical cancer through regular Pap smear tests. The Pap smear test can detect cell changes in the cervix before they turn into cancer.
Source: Sunday Mail
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