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MoH begins vaccination of schoolgirls against cervical cancer

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Various researches by a number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have revealed that a large number of teenage girls engage in sexual activity early.

These reports are very worrying considering the dangers the girls expose themselves to. Apart from being infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as the deadly HIV/AIDS, gonorrhoea, syphilis, etc,  they also   risk being infected with yet another deadly virus called the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.

Though many cancers are thought to be non-infectious, it may surprise you to know that cervical cancer is acquired through sex and, therefore, very infectious as it is passed on from the man to the women during sexual activity.

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Cervical cancer affects  the lower part of the uterus or womb that connects to the vagina and this occurs when the cells at the opening of the womb become abnormal and start to grow out of control.

The cancer is caused by early sexual activity, unprotected sex with multiple partners and also being infected with the HPV.

It is in this vein that the  Ghana Health Service (GHS), the Expanded Programme on Immunisation and other stakeholders have begun vaccinating schoolgirls in Primary four and five against the HPV.

According to an article published in the Wednesday January 23-29, 2012, edition of the Junior Graphic,  the cancer often affects women who are close to the end of their reproductive years which is between 40 to 50 years but  the changes in the body that may lead to the cancer can start early, even during adolescence because cervical cancer usually takes 20 years or more to develop.

That is why it is important for the girls to be vaccinated against the virus before their first sexual contact as they would not have been exposed to the virus then. Once a girl or a woman has been infected with the virus already, the vaccine will not work at all.                          

According to medical experts cervical cancer is a silent killer which can be prevented through  vaccination before any sexual contact.

This is because the HPV does not show symptoms when one has the infection, so there is no way of telling whether it is  present in the body or not unless a test is conducted to ascertain that the cancer is indeed present in the body.

Besides, the test is expensive for most women who get infected so they report such cases only when the disease has advanced far beyond surgery or any other treatment regimen to cure it.

In Ghana for instance, current estimates indicate that on the average, 3,038 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer while 2,006 of the number from the disease every year.

In view of this the decision to vaccinate the schoolgirls could not have come at the right time since cervical  cancer is ranked as the first most frequently reported cancer among women between the ages of 15 and 44 years in the country.

Since the vaccination is school-based a lot of girls in the country would be protected because surveys have revealled that an  estimated 80 per cent of girls are in school which means that majority of the girls would be vaccinated to protect them from the  virus.

In an interview with the Programme Manager for the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, Dr Kwadwo Odei Antwi-Agyei, he said for the girls to be fully protected they need to complete all the three doses that would be available to them.

“That is taking part in the first exercise  from February 11 through to February 15, then the second dose which will start from March 2, and then the last one from  September 23 through to the September  27,” he added.

Story by Eugenia Adjei-Mensah/Junior Graphic