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Let's make the best decisions for our children

Friday, October 06, 2017

Dear Editor,

A few mornings ago as I drove, windows up, air-conditioning blasting, and my head bobbing to music from my car stereo, upon reaching the stoplight close to my destination I saw a woman, she looked no more than 35 years old, walking her basic school-aged son to school. She looked like she had just come home from a night of partying or she could have just come home from work. Nonetheless, she was taking her child to school. I looked at them, smiled, and continued driving.

As I arrived at my destination I replayed the incident over in my head. There I sat in the confines of my air-conditioned bubble, while this lady, despite her circumstances, found the time to get up and do what she must: take her child to school. It then dawned on me that many of us are protected by our bubble, and so we do not realise the hardships that others must live with day in, day out.

People who know me will hear me speak about women needing to be vigilant in the protection of their cervix. This statement is usually directed at those who can but fail to do so through their choices. But the reality is there are many who have no choice in the matter, as they are victims of abuse or victims of their circumstances and therefore have no option of choice.

When a woman/girl is sexually active she should do an annual pap smear. The reality is that many Jamaicans still cannot afford to do one; it is still a luxury for many. The money they have has to be used on priority issues — food, rent, utilities, bus/taxi fare, etc — not for bubble-inflated things some of us can afford, and something like getting a pap smear, when you have a child(ren) with little or no help, no job, or a limited budget, is a luxury.

While pap smears are offered free through the public health system, the backlog at the public laboratories to return the results may take several months, which might lead to a delay in immediate treatment for women who have adverse findings. This delay might be too long for many, thereby resulting in loss of life.

I do agree that there needs to be a robust public education campaign for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, as people need to get as much information as so they can to make an informed decision. Nonetheless, this should not stop the Ministry of Health (MOH) from executing its programme to vaccinate girls against HPV.

The truth is some of our children are having sex; yes, it is an uncomfortable truth whether we want to admit it or not. Some are having sex with each other, and some are being abused by adults and even by other children. Added to that dilemma is not knowing if condoms are being used in these encounters. They are also at the age when they are exploring their bodies and sexuality; therefore, different types of acts might be done and a condom will not protect them in all instances.

While the MOH is focusing on girls at this time, because of the type of vaccine they are offering, which research proves has greater efficacy on females, it does not negate the fact that our boys also need to be protected from this virus, and there is a HPV vaccine that works well for men/boys. However, I do understand that the most vulnerable cohort — females — must be protected from the deleterious effects of the second-leading cancer in Jamaican women —cervical cancer. Breast cancer is number one. There are also cost implications for implementing the programme on a phased basis.

A vaccine is also much less invasive compared to asking a woman/girl to open her legs to a stranger (doctor) for them to do a swab, especially if she is the victim of sexual abuse. Therefore, while some of us can readily go to our gynaecologist and not view it as an invasion, we also have to look at the psychological impact this has on others.

Immunising your child(ren) is a personal choice, and that is one families must make in the best interest of their child(ren). No one else can make that decision for you. Some will withhold their child(ren) from getting the vaccine as they can afford to ensure that their daughters get pap smears when they are older. Others might want them to get the vaccine at their private doctor, or they might not want them to get it any at all. Whatever the choice may be, it is yours and only you can make that decision.

At the end of it all, do your reading, get all the information you can, and choose in the best interest of your child(ren).


Nicole Hayles