Prevention still better than cure

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

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As Jamaicans are well aware, “Prevention better than cure.” That's the reason health authorities have used vaccination as an immunisation method against diseases for as long as the great majority of us can remember.

Immunisation using vaccines has played a lead role in the elimination or reduction to very low levels of such diseases as polio, measles, tuberculosis, diphtheria, mumps, and others.

To a considerable extent, that disease-prevention approach has helped to keep Jamaica's life expectancy rate at 74.3 years in 2017 — as measured by the Economic & Social Survey Jamaica — despite extreme budgetary constraints affecting the health services, as well as the nation's alarmingly high murder and fatal crash rates.

True to the philosophy of prevention better than cure, the Jamaican Government since last year committed to having the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine administered to grade-seven female students across the island.

The human papillomavirus — a common, sexually transmitted infection — is one of the leading causes of cervical cancer in women. And cervical cancer is described as a leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Jamaican women between 30 and 50 years of age.

We are told that the Government's HPV vaccination programme is based on recommendations from such health-based organisations as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its outgrowth the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) which contend that the vaccine prevents cervical cancer.

The popularly targeted age of 9-14 years is considered appropriate since the vaccine is said to be most effective if it is administered before young people become sexually active and therefore vulnerable to the spread of the HPV virus.

A lower than expected positive response rate from Jamaican parents to the local HPV vaccination campaign has triggered an uptick in public education and sensitisation.

We suspect that many parents have been slow to respond and have not given approval for their children to be vaccinated only because the messages have not reached them. We expect this to be corrected by the health authorities working closely with organisations such as the Jamaica Cancer Society through all available media channels — traditional and otherwise.

We are also aware that there is a reluctance — which is not new — on the part of some people who cite alleged adverse reactions to vaccinations. Yet, health experts say such reactions to the vaccine are rare and when they do occur, are usually temporary and moderate.

Community leaders including teachers, pastors, police, other professionals, business operators, and heads of citizens organisations of every stripe should make it their duty to spread the word about the relevance of the HPV vaccine.

Also, in getting the message across, the authorities need to make sure that there is no misunderstanding. They should be on guard for example to ensure people understand that the HPV vaccine does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV. Having had the vaccination earlier in life does not in any way reduce the need for people to protect themselves, using condoms, etc.

For some, the warning may seem misplaced. But we still can't say it enough: Prevention better than cure.

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