Experts turns to primary school girls to win war on cancer

By Ejidiah Wangui  
What would you say or do if your daughter came home from school and told you she had been given cancer vaccine back in school?
   Well, this is the direction Kenya has taken in its efforts to tame the rising cases of cervical cancer, which is the second killer among Kenyan women.

   The World Health Organization estimates that every year in Kenya more than half of the 2,500 women diagnosed with cervical cancer die from the disease. Cervical cancer is preventable through vaccination.
   It is also treatable if effective screening is in place. Unless efforts are made to prevent and control the disease, the number of women dying from cervical cancer is estimated to double by 2025.
   Cervical Cancer vaccine is now available for girls in primary school and will be given free of charge to girls who have not been exposed to sexual activities in a program dubbed "support prevention of cervical cancer program."
   Those targeted are girls in their last year of lower primary (class four) as they likely not to have tasted the forbidden fruit.
   The plan already rolled out in Kitui county will extend to other counties by 2015. This follows last year's nationwide screening program for women of reproductive age.
   "The two year demonstration program in Kitui County schools will allow health experts to collect evidence that will form strategies for effective delivery of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine to the target group,'' World Health Organization (WHO) Country Representative Dr Custodia Mandlhate said during the rolling out of the initiative at Kitui Central Primary school.
   The Kitui pilot project will direct the country on how to deliver the vaccination in acceptable, feasible and cost effective way as recommended by the Global Alliance Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI).
   The WHO official called for vigorous education targeting behavior change and reducing behaviors that tend to increase the risk of acquiring HPV infection.
   She also said HPV vaccine now available in the market should be introduced as part of a coordinated strategy to prevent cervical cancer and HPV related diseases.
   Dr Mandlhate says the vaccines to prevent infection by HPV were developed six-even years ago and two types are available in the market.
   ''Cervical cancer can be prevented and if early detected, it can be cured and is up to countries to develop their own strategies for prevention and control of cancer,'' says the WHO official.
   For the program to succeed, she says HPV vaccination exercise should be incorporated into the country's adolescent and school health intervention.
   GAVI Country Representative in Kenya Charlie Whethan said should the cervical cancer vaccine become effective, it will reduce the cost of the disease prevention from 100 U. S. dollars to 50 dollars.
   He said the vaccine has worked in Laos, Tanzania, Ghana, Malawi and Uganda and the deaths caused by cervical cancer have drastically gone down.
   Cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment services are now available in all government health care facilities.
   Kenya projects that by 2030, cancer will become the single most common cause of death surpassing infectious diseases.
   Progressive increase in the cancer burden in the country is as a result of increasing exposure to preventable risk factors that are responsible for one out three causes of cancer.
   WHO estimates that more than 60 percent of women in Kenya diagnosed with cervical cancer die every year and thus approximately 10.3 million women aged above 15 years at the risk of developing the disease.
   Kenya is the first of seven sub-Saharan countries to get GAVI's support for HPV demonstration projects.
   Using a "learn by doing" approach, the demonstration projects give countries the chance to explore ways to deliver HPV vaccines and to make informed decisions if they then choose to apply for national introduction. The wide reach of the immunization programs should also provide a valuable opportunity to reach adolescents with other important health interventions.
   Globally, a woman dies from cervical cancer every two minutes. Of the 275,000 women each year who lose their lives to cervical cancer, more than 85 percent live in developing countries where access to screening and treatment is often limited. Cervical cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths among women in these countries.
   High enrollment rates among Kenyan girls in schools mean that most will receive the vaccines through schools.
   The project in Kitui County will also deliver HPV vaccines with the support of community health workers to out-of-school girls, who may be at higher risk, through local clinics and outreach campaigns. (Xinhua)