As we wrap up the February month, the shortest month of the year which is generally designated as a month of demonstrating love, I would like to create more awareness about one form of parental love that every parent should demonstrate towards their pre-sexual activity daughters in the ages of 9-14 years.
That practical demonstration of love towards one’s daughter in the above age bracket is by ensuring that your pre-teen daughters are vaccinated against the Cancer of the Cervix (Cancer of the Mouth of the Womb), which is the most common cancer amongst women in the ages of 15 to 44 years in South Africa, and the 2nd most common cancer amongst women in general, after Breast Cancer.
One of the most recent advances in the medical field is the recent breakthrough in the Cancer of the Cervix prevention, whereby high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (hrHPV) infections are successfully prevented through vaccination, thereby offering between 70%-90% protection to those who have been vaccinated pre-exposure to the HPV virus through sexual intercourse.
The Cancer of the Cervix amongst females is a big deal because more women globally and here in South Africa die from this form of preventable cancer, than pregnancy-related deaths; with the prediction by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that these deaths will peak by the year 2030 globally, because the causative HPV infections prevalence is increasing worldwide, partly driven by its close association with the Human Immuno-Deficiency Viral (HIV) infections.
More than 7700 women in South Africa are diagnosed with Cancer of the Cervix annually, with more than half of those affected women succumbing to this preventable cancer and dying prematurely, yet in developed countries like the USA, there is a 70% survival rate from this form of Cancer.
There is now solid scientific proof that presence and or persistence of the various high-risk strains of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) within the cells of the mouth of the womb/cervix is necessary for the normal cells to progress to abnormal cancer cells.
The drivers of high Cancer of the Cervix prevalence and related deaths amongst low to middle-income countries like South Africa are the following factors:
- Low compliance to CA Cervix screening using annual Pap Smears;
- High number of people with suspicious Pap Smear results who do not present for follow ups;
- Limited resources for management of women with HPV-associated pre-cancerous lesions/changes in the mouth of the womb.
- Late presentations by affected women, often in late stages of the disease progression, and association with HIV.
In 2006 the FDA in the USA approved two Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccines after they had been shown to be extremely effective in the prevention of HPV infections that cause Cancer of the Cervix. Two years later in South Africa, our Medicines Control Council (MCC), followed suit by approving the use of these vaccines the prevent CA Cervix amongst women in SA.
There are two HPV vaccines Cervarix and Gardasil that have been approved for HPV and CA Cervix prevention in South Africa, and they are made by two different companies. These HPV vaccines are only effective when used before the commencement of sexual intercourse, and therefore are ideal to be administered before sexual debut at 9 years to 13 years of age. Both vaccines show 70% efficacy in the prevention of high-risk HPV infections and CA Cervix. An advanced version of the Gardasil vaccine, called Gardasil-9 has been released which offers 90% protection against more high-risk HPV infections that cause CA Cervix.
The uptake of these HPV vaccines in South Africa amongst the young girls has been quite low, despite its solid health benefits in the effective prevention of the 2nd commonest cancer amongst women of all ages in South Africa. The low uptake is due to low awareness about this HPV vaccine medical innovation amongst the South African population, as well as the relatively high cost of the vaccine, which is approximately R650 per dose, and two to three doses are required to ensure effective prevention.
A few years ago, the National Department Of Health under Minister Aaron Motsoaledi launched an HPV Vaccination Programme using Cervarix vaccine in the public schools, focusing girls of the ages 9 years or older, especially those who are doing Grade 4, targeting 500 00 girls across South Africa. This obviously excludes girls who are in the private schools, whose parents are amongst the heavy contributors to the national fiscus via high personal taxes and the businesses that some parents own and lead.
If you have a girl child in the ages 9-14 years, and they are in a private school environment, do yourself and your daughter a big favour, invest in her future wellness by ensuring that she is vaccinated with an HPV vaccine. The estimated R2000.00 cost for the two to three doses that are prescribed for the HPV vaccine, is money well spent to Cancer-Proof your princess, a much better investment than buying them smartphones.
In conclusion, my unbiased professional advice is that every parent must consult their family doctors or paediatricians and ask that their girls be given a two course of Gardasil-9 HPV vaccine, because it covers a broader spectrum of high-risk HPV viral strains, and consequently achieves a must higher level of prevention efficacy. The period of 20th to 28th of February 2017 has been designated as the period of promoting the use of the HPV vaccines in South Africa, per the National Health Calendar.