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A shot at a cervical cancer-free life

Written by Gabi Khumalo
Even though the little girl’s hands were trembling at the thought of the injection, little Nolubabalo Palesa Qhautse put on a brave face when it was her turn to get vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

Grade 4 learners from the Gonyane Primary School in Mangaung celebrate during the launch of the HPV vaccination campaign at their school.but her mother, Dimakatso Qhautse, stood vigil as Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi administered the HPV vaccine.

Nolubabalo, 9, was among the Grade 4 learners from the Gonyane Primary School in Mangaung, who received their first dose of the HPV vaccine from the Minister.

Nolubabalo knew that the vaccine would protect her against cervical cancer; her mother had told her so.

“She didn’t tell me in detail what cervical cancer is, but she promised the vaccine is going to protect me. The injection was and is still painful. I almost cried but I held myself back because there were so many people watching,” she said.

Qhautse, who was at the school to witness the launch of the HPV vaccine campaign, said she was relieved that her daughter would be protected from the virus, which almost killed her mother.

“My mother had cervical cancer and her womb had to be removed. Fortunately, she survived. When I heard about the campaign launch, I didn’t hesitate and signed the consent form from the school immediately. Thanks to government, our children will not experience what most women go through due to the virus,” said Qhautse.

Women’s health

South Africa took a major step in the safeguarding of women’s health when Minister Motsoaledi rolled out the first HPV vaccine campaign, which will protect young girls from getting cervical cancer caused by the HP-virus.

Minister Motsoaledi announced the national vaccination campaign in 2013 during his Budget Speech. An estimated 500 000 girls in 17 000 schools will be vaccinated.

During the launch, a proud Minister Motsoaledi said the country was making history and the day marked the beginning of the effective prevention of cervical cancer. He said although the vaccine is a bit pricey - each dose costs between R700 and R1 000 in the private sector - he was determined to get the vaccine for the people.

“Today, South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent to provide this vaccine to all Grade 4 learners. On this continent, we are the first to vaccinate as many as half a million girls. The one country which provides this vaccine is Zambia and it only gives 25 000 vaccines. It’s a serious disease affecting women in the world,” the Minister said.

Grade 4 learners from the Gonyane Primary School in Mangaung celebrate during the launch of the HPV vaccination campaign at their school.

Saving lives

He also noted that 6 000 women get cervical cancer every year. About 80 per cent are African women. Between 3 000 and 3 500 will die annually, even after treatment.

“Half of them are between ages 35 and 55 years,” he said, urging women to get screened for cervical cancer.

The Minister also thanked parents for agreeing to vaccinate their children and assured them that health policies were based on best evidence, including the department’s own experts’ committee, which advises the department.

He said that although girls from the higher grades have missed out on the vaccination, the department would make sure that every learner from Grade R gets the vaccine when they reach Grade 4 to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the near future.

Treasury has allocated R400 million for the campaign.

Executive Director at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Helen Rees, said the vaccination of girls at a young age would lower infection rates and would also reduce infection in boys.

“... If we can get the coverage in young girls up high enough, there’s a benefit for young boys because as you decrease the infection [in girls], there will be less infection in boys,” said Rees.

Free State Basic Education MEC Tate Makgoe said he was pleased that the programme was launched in his province. He also thanked President Zuma for making health and education a priority. “We support the programme because a world without health is useless.”

Before the launch, the school governing body was contacted and parents were given consent forms to sign for their children to be vaccinated.