Assault on cancer

Islandwide programme targets schoolgirls

BY CLAUDIENNE EDWARDS
Observer writer
edwardsc@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, September 22, 2017



NEXT month, the Ministry of Health will start visiting schools across the island to give girls in grade seven, aged nine to 14, the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine that should protect them against cancer of the cervix.

News of the campaign was shared at yesterday's meeting of the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation's Parish Disaster Preparedness and Public Health Committee by Medical Officer of Health Dr Alisha Rob-Allen.

According to Dr Rob-Allen, cancer of the cervix is the second leading cause of death among women in Jamaica. She also told the councillors that Jamaica is leading the Caribbean in terms of deaths from cervical cancer caused by HPV.

HPV is commonly spread through sexual contact and can cause an infection in the cervix, according to the Ministry of Health. This may cause the cells of the cervix to change and become pre-cancerous cells. Sometimes pre-cancerous cells may turn into cancer if they are not found and treated early, the ministry's website said.

Dr Rob-Allen said that the World Health Organization's recommendation is that the school cohort, aged nine to 14, be the group best targeted for the HPV vaccine, as they were more likely to have low sexual activity.

The medical officer pointed out that, whereas girls in the nine to 14 age group would be given two doses of the vaccine, girls 15 and over would have to be given three doses.

According to Dr Rob-Allen, the Ministry of Health has been sensitising schools about the HPV vaccine since July.

She also said that because of the age group being targeted for the vaccine, a decision was taken against doing a mass media campaign.

However, nurses, churches, pre-teen, and teens were being educated about the vaccine, she said, adding that the ministry was producing booklets and flyers about the vaccine.

“Parents and teenagers can also go to the nearest health centre and ask questions,” Dr Rob-Allen said.

She said that the ministry has been trying to implement the HPV vaccine for several years.

“The ministry and public health are passionate and confident about this vaccine. I am confident in this vaccine,” Dr Rob-Allen said.

She explained that it is not necessary to give the vaccine to boys.

“If it is successful with the girls, the boys will be protected,” she explained.

In response to questions from the councillors, Dr Rob-Allen said that the vaccine was also being used with good results in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Canada.

Cancer accounts for 23 per cent of deaths in Jamaica. The most common cancers here are prostate, lung and colorectal in men; and breast, cervical and colorectal in women. Prostate and breast cancers are the leading causes of cancer-related deaths.

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