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What you need to know about HPV

Written by Staff reporter
Grade 4 schoolgirls across the country are being vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) after the Department of Health launched the HPV vaccination campaign.

About 500 000 Grade 4 schoolgirls will be vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, as part of the HPV vaccination campaign.South Africa took a major step in the safeguarding of women’s health through the campaign, which will protect young girls from getting cervical cancer caused by the HP-virus.

An estimated 500 000 girls in 17 000 schools will be vaccinated.

Vuk’uzenzele takes a look at what you need to know about HPV and the campaign.

What is HPV?

HPV is a very common virus that infects most people at some time in their lives. There are many types of HPV. Some of the virus types can infect our cells that could eventually lead to cancer.

Who can get HPV?

Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV (both men and women). A person infected with HPV can pass it on to his/her intimate partner.

What is cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer is a cancer that affects the cervix, which is the lower part of the womb. Cancer is when abnormal cells in the body start to grow very quickly and cannot be controlled by normal body processes. Over time, normal cells are replaced by cancer cells and without early diagnosis and treatment the person may die.

How can you confirm if a person has cervical cancer?

A special test, called a PAP smear, is required to detect if a person has early signs of developing cervical cancer. The cells from the cervix are collected and sent to laboratory for testing.

Has the HPV vaccine been thoroughly tested and used before?

The HPV vaccine has been tested and used in many other countries. It is a World Health Organisation recommended vaccine and is currently used in more than 130 countries.

The Medicines Control Council of South Africa has registered this HPV vaccine, after confirming that it is safe for use.

How safe and effective is the vaccine?

The HPV vaccine used in South Africa is very safe and effective in preventing the HPV-16 and HPV-18 strains of the virus.

What is the HPV vaccination campaign?

The Department of Health, together with the Department of Basic Education, is introducing a HPV vaccination campaign in schools. This is part of the Integrated School Health Programme. Nurses will visit schools to vaccinate Grade 4 girls.

Who is going to vaccinated during the campaign?

Schoolgirls who are in Grade 4 and are nine years and older will be vaccinated.

Why are only grade 4 girls being vaccinated?

This vaccine is most effective in young girls who are at least nine years old. As the entry requirement for Grade 1 is seven years old, most girls in Grade 4 will be between nine and 10 years old. Grade 4 has been identified as the most suitable grade to start vaccination.

Why are boys not given The HPV vaccine?

This campaign aims to prevent cervical cancer, which occurs only in women.

Why should girls be vaccinated against HPV?

The HPV vaccine is important to protect against HPV infection that could lead to cervical cancer later in life.

Do learners need consent from their parents/guardian to be vaccinated?

Yes. Parents/guardians need to provide signed consent for the vaccination. Girls who are 12 years and older have to agree themselves.

Where is the HPV vaccination campaign going to be conducted?

The vaccination will be administered in schools to Grade 4 girls across the country. Special schools will also be covered and in these schools girls born in 2004 will also be vaccinated.

Who will be administering the vaccines?

There will be trained teams of health workers who will be visiting schools to vaccinate Grade 4 girls.

Human Papilloma Virus:
  • is very common infectious agent
  • has no visible symptoms, most infections will go away without causing illness
  • causes most cases of cervical cancer
  • is most likely to infect adolescent girls and young women
  • is transmitted during sexual activity.
Cervical cancer:
  • is one of the most common cancers affecting women in South Africa
  • is the second most common cancer in South Africa
  • only affects women
  • a special screening test is required to detect cervical cancer
  • if not detected at an early stage it is difficult to treat cervical cancer and it often results in death.
HPV vaccine:
  • prevents infection from HPV strains which cause most cervical cancer
  • is most effective in young girls who have not yet come into contact with HPV
  • is safe and effective
  • has been used in many countries
  • requires two correctly spaced doses (months 0 and 6).
HPV vaccine cannot:
  • treat or cure HPV infection – it is for prevention only
  • treat or cure cervical cancer
  • prevent or treat human immunodeficiency (HIV) infection
  • prevent or end pregnancy – HPV vaccine is not a method of family planning.
Statistics on HPV:
  • The incidence rate of cervical cancer in South Africa is reported between 22.8 and 27 per 100 000 women compared to the global average of 15.8.
  • Annually there are some 5 743 new cases reported with 3 027 associated deaths in South Africa.
  • 99 per cent of cervical cancers are associated with HPV.
  • About seven in every 10 people will have HPV at some point in their lifetime.
  • Two strains of HPV (HPV-16 and HPV-18) are found to cause over 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases.
  • HPV-16 and HPV-18 strains are vaccine-preventable.
  • The World Health Organisation has recommended vaccinating girls before they are sexually active (between 9 to 13 years).