With President Uhuru Kenyatta leading the way, Kenya today joins an increasing number of African countries taking a vital step against a common cause of death among women – in the country and the region – by introducing the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine against cervical cancer into its routine immunization schedule.
“Please, let us not fight science – let us respond to questions, discuss and agree because we all want a right and prosperous future for our children,” the Kenyan President said at the launch of the cervical cancer prevention and control strategy in a Mombasa schoolyard, where around 45 girls received the HPV vaccine.
Their parents, teachers and community leaders joined the President, government officials, the Mombasa Catholic Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde and other religious leaders in celebrating the significance of this new strategy.
Cervical cancer is one of the few cancers that is almost totally preventable. The HPV vaccine is effective against most HPV strains, which account for more than 70% of cervical cancer cases.
The HPV vaccine against cervical cancer is effective if administered before exposure to the virus, which is transmitted sexually. Kenya is targeting 800 000 girls aged 10 years throughout the country after basing the strategy on lessons learned from the experience of a Kitui County demonstration project a few years ago. The vaccine is administered on the upper part of the arm in two doses, six months apart.
“In Kenya, nine women die every day from cervical cancer,” explained Honourable Sicily Kariuki, Cabinet Secretary for Health, during today’s launch festivity in Mombasa, adding that women in their twenties are now vulnerable. “This sad situation must be reversed. The HPV vaccine has potential to cut the burden of cervical cancer by 70%.”
Kenya becomes the twelfth country in East and Southern Africa to integrate the HPV vaccine into its routine immunization schedule.
“In many parts of Africa, cervical cancer screening is limited, with very little capacity for managing advanced cases. This is largely due to insufficient access to health care services,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We commend Kenya for their commitment to prevent cervical cancer, and we hope more countries will take similar action.”
To eliminate cervical cancer, WHO called on partners and countries in 2018 to increase access and coverage of three essential interventions: screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions, management of cervical cancer and HPV vaccination.
WHO Representative in Kenya Dr Rudi Eggers also applauded the Government for introducing the HPV vaccine into the national immunization schedule. “WHO recognizes the importance of cervical cancer as an important global health problem. Kenya has once again shown its commitment to the health of its population by ensuring all eligible girls receive the HPV vaccine, a safe and effective vaccine,” said Dr Eggers.
To prepare for the national introduction of the HPV vaccine, Kenya successfully conducted a demonstration project between 2013 and 2015 in Kitui County, with a 95% coverage rate among 22 500 girls.
WHO will continue to support countries in rolling out the HPV vaccine and expanding access and coverage of cervical cancer screening and treatment to save lives and promote well-being among women and girls across the African Region.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of WHO Regional Office for Africa.