HPV vaccine to fight cervical cancer finally launched in Kenya

Saturday October 19 2019

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta at the launch of the HPV vaccine on October 18.

A pupil receives the HPV vaccine after it was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Ziwani Primary School grounds in Mombasa County on October 18, 2019. Kenya is the 16th country in Africa to introduce the vaccine and 116th in the world. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI | NMG 

ANNIE NJANJA
By ANNIE NJANJA
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Kenya has finally introduced the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer, joining three other countries in the region.

The vaccine, which is most effective when administered between the ages of nine and 14, will be given in two doses six months apart, and will be available at 9,000 public, private and faith-based health facilities countrywide.

Despite getting subsidised prices for the national roll-outt, a global scarcity of the vaccine means that only 10-year-old girls will receive it for free.

The vaccine was launched by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday.

In the region, Rwanda was the first to roll out and incorporate the vaccine in its national immunisation programme in 2008, followed by Uganda in 2015 and Tanzania last year. Burundi and South Sudan are the only countries among the EAC yet to do so.

Dr Phionah Atuhubwe, Africa’s new vaccines introductions officer at the World Health Organisation, said the immunisation is not planned to start in Burundi and South Sudan for at least five years.

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WHO recommends vaccination of all girls and screening at least once every year for older women to reduce the risk of developing cervical cancer.

Kenya, which is the 16th country in Africa to introduce the vaccine and 116th in the world, will spend $8 million in donor funding to reach an estimated 800,000 girls in the next year.

The programme is a collaboration between the Ministry of Health, Unicef, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation and WHO.

Announcing the roll-out of the vaccination, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Health Sicily Kariuki, said; “Nine women die in Kenya every day from cervical cancer. One is too many and nine in unacceptable.

“Vaccines are life savers and cervical cancer is preventable through vaccination. We are targeting our girls while they are young as a preventive measure. We are working in close collaboration with the Education Ministry and the County governments to ensure that those in schools or leading a nomadic life are reached and vaccinated,” she added.

Rwanda has covered 93 per cent, protecting up to 98,792 girls aged nine to 14 years, according to statistics from the country’s Ministry of Health.

The vaccine has, however, recorded a slow take-off in Uganda, with coverage currently at 25 per cent reaching about 580,000 of the eligible age according to Uganda’s Ministry of Health.

Cervical cancer accounts for 80 per cent of all female cancers in Uganda. As of 2018, new cases were 6,413, with 4,301 deaths.