HPV vaccines help prevent cancer

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe and Western Cape Government

Girls as young as nine may be vacci­nated against the human papillomavi­rus (HPV). The vir us can lead to cervical cancer – the leading cause of cancer-relat­ed deaths.

To protect girls, an annual HPV vaccina­tion programme was first rolled out in 2014, as part of the Inte­grated School Health Programme. The pro­gramme, led by the departments of Health, Basic Education, and Social Development provides the vaccine free of charge to lear­ners in Grade 5 who are over the age of nine.

To be fully protected, two doses (a minimum of five months apart) are offered annually to girls.

Vaccines are admi­nistered by trained professional nurses who are employed by the Department of Health.

What is HPV?

HPV is a common viral infection of the repro­ductive tract. It lives on the skin and can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact.

 According to the National Department of Health, close to 80% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV.

“Cervical cancer is a preventable disease. An effective and affordable way of preventing this is through vaccination against the HPV,” says the department.

Getting vaccinated

In the Western Cape, Sister Beatrice Groe­newald, the Overberg District child health coordinator, says her team works hard to ensure as many girls as possible are vaccinated.

She says they send parents consent forms and information pamphlets in local lan­guages. The pamphlet contains frequently asked questions.

“This enables them to familiarise themselves with the key facts – that the HPV vaccine is safe and effective, and that it is different from the Coronavirus Disease vaccine – to help them make an informed decision.”

Elize Joubert, CEO of the Cancer Association of South Africa, says the organisation sup­ports the programme. 

“One must remember that there is no cure or treatment for the virus. So making it possible for their girl child to be vaccinated essentially is making sure that their girl child is protected for the rest of her life against HPV infection,” she says.

The first round of this year's vaccination programme ends in March. The second round will take place from 2 September to 31 October.

For more informa­tion on HPV, visit www.cansa.org. za or call the toll-free number 0800 22 66 22. For HPV vaccination infor­mation, contact your nearest pro­vincial health care facility, which you can find at www. health.gov.za.