Thandeka Moyo, Health Reporter
OVER a million girls are set to receive the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine this week in Zimbabwe, a development likely to reduce the number of new cervical cancer cases.
Cervical cancer is now the leading cause of death which kills four women daily in Zimbabwe.
In a statement, Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima said Zimbabwe is the 8th African country to introduce HPV vaccine into its routine immunisation programme.
“Over a million girls aged 10 to 15 years are set to receive the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine this week up to May 31,” said Prof Mavima.
“The government has adopted a school- based approach for the vaccination programme, hence parents, guardians, teachers, churches and communities are urged to rally behind the ministries of Health and Education and encourage all eligible girls to receive this life saving vaccine,” said Prof Mavima.
He said most of the targeted girls will be receiving a second dose this year whereas all Grade 5 pupils and those who missed out last year will be vaccinated for the first time.
“We are grateful for the support from GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations) and Vaccine Alliance for availing adequate vaccines to cover all eligible girls across the country from the programme’s inception and subsequently for the annual vaccination which will continue in schools. Other partners such as the UNFPA, WHO and Health Development Fund have pledged to support the country to ensure the success of the cervical cancer prevention programme,” he added.
The national HPV programme was officially launched by the First Lady Amai Auxilia Mnangagwa last year in Mutare with the thrust of expanding access to cervical cancer prevention.
HPV vaccine is a WHO recommended intervention to prevent infection with two types of HPV known to cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers.
According to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Related Cancers in Zimbabwe report, all women who are 15 years and above are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
“Risk factors include early age of sexual intercourse, multiple sexual partners, HIV infection, Sexually Transmitted Infections and smoking. Estimates indicate that every year 2 270 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 1 451 die from the disease,” read the report.
Cervical cancer which has since overtaken HIV as the number one killer disease among women in Zimbabwe is the most prevalent and deadliest form of cancer in Zimbabwe and lack of information and access to screening and treatment services contributes to the high mortality rate especially in rural areas.