Cervical cancer is common and affects lower uterine cervical tissue. It is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) which is transmitted through oral, vaginal, or anal sex.
Cervical Cancer: Global Public Health Concern
Around the world, cervical cancer poses an enormous public health risk to women. It is the world’s fourth most deadly cancer among women, affecting more than 300,000 people each year.
In 2020, the disease was responsible for more than 342,000 deaths worldwide.
Also, 9 of every 10 cases of cervical cancer are caused by HPV. Current vaccines protect girls and women from the most dangerous HPV strains, type 16 and 18.
The HPV vaccine was introduced in 2006 for girls aged 9 to 13. Since, it has been approved for other age groups. However, not all national cervical cancer prevention policies include the vaccine.
The HPV vaccination only prevents infection. The vaccine cannot get rid of the virus once a person has been infected.
Because the viruses are so prevalent, children need to be vaccinated before starting sexual relationships.
HPV Research Findings
A new study published in The Lancet found that HPV vaccine could reduce cervical cancer cases by nearly 90%.
The study looked at what happened after the vaccine was made available to a group of English girls in 2008.
The study discovered the girls (who are now in their mid-twenties) had less pre-cancerous growths and 87% less cervical cancer.
Many scientists are hopeful that this new research will convince more women to get vaccinated against HPV. If more people are vaccinated, they believe cervical cancer rates will further be reduced.
HPV and Cervical Cancer in Africa
According to the World Health Organization, in 2018 the top 20 countries with cervical cancer patients were located in Africa.
This is a critical issue for African women.
The disease is especially dangerous in Africa because there’s a lack of prevention and Africa’s vaccination rates are extremely low.
There are several reasons for low HPV vaccination rates in African women, but the two most important reasons are; lack of awareness and accessibility.
Lack of awareness: Many parents don’t know that HPV can lead to cervical cancer.
HPV is often discussed as a sexually transmitted infection, which makes people think the vaccination is only for promiscuous teenagers.
Negative religious and cultural beliefs about vaccines act as barriers to adolescent girls receiving the vaccination. Another contributing factor is low education among healthcare workers.
Solution: With proper education and awareness, parents and healthcare workers will understand the HPV vaccine prevents infection, especially with prevalent types 16 and 18. It is best to receive the vaccine before sexual activity begins.
Lack of accessibility: Closing the cancer divide, there is the need for providing HPV vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.
However, the HPV vaccine isn’t perceived the same as other childhood vaccines.
In most African countries, the HPV vaccinations is not provided during routine or free mass immunization programs.
Therefore, it becomes available only “out-of-pocket” for individuals, making it difficult to access for most people.
Solution: Recognize cervical cancer as a major health concern, and the inclusion of the HPV vaccine from a young age is necessary in African countries.
Specifically, it is advised for HPV vaccination programs to involve both government immunization programs and education institutions. This will increase consent, mobilization, logistics and monitoring.
An increase in cervical cancer screenings would also improve health and health system capabilities.
Cervical cancer is a serious public health issue across the world, with the disease affecting females in developing countries.
Researchers hope the new study will encourage more women and girls to get vaccinated, especially in Africa where cervical cancer rates are much greater than in other parts of the world.
The HPV vaccine is clearly saving lives.
Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota