Gov’t Protecting Girls Against Deadly Cervical Cancer

Photo: JIS Photographer Programme Development Officer, Family Health Unit, Ministry of Health, Dr. Julia Rowe-Porter.

Story Highlights

  • Starting October, teams from the Ministry of Health will be visiting secondary schools across the island to administer the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to girls in grade seven.
  • The move is a proactive measure by the Government to protect girls against cervical cancer, which takes the lives of hundreds of women in the country per year and hundreds of thousands more worldwide.
  • Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Jamaica and the ninth leading cause of death worldwide.

Starting October, teams from the Ministry of Health will be visiting secondary schools across the island to administer the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to girls in grade seven.

The move is a proactive measure by the Government to protect girls against cervical cancer, which takes the lives of hundreds of women in the country per year and hundreds of thousands more worldwide.

“In October/November, the health team will come and offer the vaccine to the girls… .This vaccine is a very effective measure against cervical cancer,” Programme Development Officer, Family Health Unit in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Julia Rowe-Porter tells JIS News.

She says it is important for girls to get vaccinated, as cancer of the cervix is a deadly disease.

Cervical cancer, she says, is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Jamaica and the ninth leading cause of death worldwide.

Dr. Rowe-Porter notes that the aim of this intervention is to significantly reduce the number of cases of cervical cancer in the country, which is almost 400 cases, and some 200 deaths per annum.

“It is very costly to treat with radiation and so forth, and there is a lot of pain and suffering that goes along with our women getting this… . It is a real burden on the family, on society, hence the Government of Jamaica is very committed to fight against all cancers, and in this case cervical cancer. So, we will be introducing the vaccine for our girls to prevent them from getting the virus that causes this,” she tells JIS News.

Dr. Rowe-Porter notes that the HPV vaccine protects against two types of the virus – HPV 16 and 18 – that cause the majority of cervical cancers.

“HPV is mainly transmitted by sexual intercourse… so the vaccine is really geared towards protecting the girls before they get exposed to this virus… . That’s why we have to target our young girls before they are exposed to this virus,” she says.

“How the vaccine works is that it boosts the immune system so that if and when girls are exposed to the virus, then their body can fight it off and they won’t get infected with HPV 16 and 18,” she explains.

She points out that for full protection, each girl needs to get two doses of the vaccine. “So the first dose will be given starting October, then six months after, each girl needs to get a second dose,” she informs.

The Programme Development Officer stresses that the vaccine will only be administered to grade-seven girls.

“For parents who want their girls in other grades to get it, they can go to their private practitioners to get the vaccine,” she advises, noting that it has been available in the private sector for many years.

Dr. Rowe-Porter notes that administering of the vaccine to girls will serve to protect boys through the herd effect.

“At this time, the Ministry is really focused on preventing cervical cancer, so our main target… is our girls. If the majority of girls are vaccinated, then boys will also benefit from protection. There is something that we call herd immunity, where, if the majority of our girls are protected via vaccination, the spread and transmission to boys will also be prevented and boys will benefit also,” Dr. Rowe-Porter explains.

Addressing reservations that parents may have regarding the safety of the vaccination, Dr. Rowe-Porter assures that there is no need to be concerned.

“Some parents may have the concern if the vaccine is safe… you may be concerned that there are side effects, but it is really a very safe vaccine. More than 200 million doses have been given worldwide without any reports of significant side effects,” she informs.

She further points out that 70 countries around the world and counting are introducing this vaccine and are seeing the positive effects on their women where the cervical cancer rate has declined dramatically.

“Also, this is an opportunity to prevent cancer. Cancer generally is a burden everywhere, and if you had access to a vaccine that can prevent cancer, wouldn’t you want to give it to your children, so that they won’t have to suffer this burden in the long term? Do it for your children. Do it to protect our women of tomorrow. Get vaccinated,” she pleads.

She is urging persons who have concerns about the vaccine, or any other questions, to contact the health team at the Ministry’s health centres and health departments across the island.

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