Campaign against cervical cancer kicks off
A campaign to combat cervical cancer has been launched, starting with the free vaccination of all girls aged 12 to 15.
First Lady Jeannette Kagame launched the campaign at Kanyinya Primary School in Nyarugenge district on Tuesday. It aims to vaccinate all girls between the ages of 12 and 15 against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which causes the disease. In addition, there will also be screening of adult women. Rwanda is the first African country to organize such a systematic campaign in which vaccination is offered free of charge.
Jeannette Kagame pointed out that the program is highly important since it protects women against a potentially mortal disease. She added that this is in turn beneficial for the entire country, given the role of women in the development process.
The initial three-year program will be facilitated by Merck, the pharmaceutical firm which developed the vaccine, and by Qiagen staff who will conduct screening services in order to offer treatment to affected women.
The vaccination targets all girls currently aged 12 to 15 years countrywide; for it to be effective, they have to be vaccinated three times in a six-month period. The exercise will be conducted in schools for easier identification of the girls, but locals leaders were also advised to make sure that children of the targeted age who are out of school get the vaccination too. Teachers and parents should also report any cases of side effects which might occur; possible effects include mild headache, skin rash and nausea.
A second part of the campaign consists of screening of women aged 35-45 years. If treated early, cervical cancer can be completely cured. Given that HPV is mainly transmitted through sexual intercourse, the screening is also relevant for men, since they too can carry and transmit the virus (although they cannot develop the cancer).
There are 2.72 million women aged 15 years and older in Rwanda who are at a risk of developing cervical cancer. Among female deaths due to cancer in the country, cervical cancer accounts for about 50%.
Merck will donate more than 2 million doses of the Gardasil vaccine while Qiagen will provide 250,000 HPV screening tests at no cost.
“Over 80% of cervical cancer cases occur in the world’s poorest countries, having a severe impact on the women affected, their families and communities,” said Mark Feinberg, the vice-president of Merck. “This program will provide access to a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention to help reduce the burden of the disease and improve public health outcomes and capacity in the country.”