Thirty-two thousand schoolgirls in 13 districts in the Central and Northern regions are to benefit from cervical cancer vaccinations.
The beneficiaries, aged between nine and 11, would be given the vaccionation in a three-phase exercise against cervical cancer, which is said to be the leading cause of cancer deaths among women.
At a news briefing in Accra Tuesday, the Director-General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Appiah Dankyira, said the MoH had received 64,000 doses of Human Papillovirus Vaccines (HPV) worth $8,289,408, to help prevent cervical cancer among women of reproductive age.
Cervical cancer ranks as the first most frequent cancer among women between the ages of 15 and 44 in Ghana.
The vaccines were provided by Axios of the USA through the Rural Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (Ruwide).
On the theme, “Prevent cervical cancer, vaccinate the girl child”, all seven districts in the Central Region and six others in the Northern Region would benefit from the exercise.
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The districts in the Central Region are Awutu-Senya, Awutu-Senya East, Cape Coast, Efutu, Ekumfi, Mfantseman and Agona West. Those in the Northern Region are East Gonja, Kumbungu, Mion, Savelugu-Nanton, Tolon and Yendi.
All the girls identified would be vaccinated three times and the vaccination exercise would begin from February 11 to 15, followed by the second exercise from March 18 to 22 and the third vaccination from September 23 to 27, 2013.
Dr Dankyira said the young girls were being targeted because it was assumed that at the age of nine and 11, the girls might not have had any sexual contact and, therefore, the vaccine would help to prevent them from contracting cervical cancer when they were initiated into sexual activities.
Cervical cancer is contracted when girls are initiated into sexual intercourse at an early stage or when they have unprotected sex with multiple partners or when one is infected with HPV, which is the virus that causes cervical cancer.
The young girls are being targeted and vaccinated before they have any sexual contact.
Explaining why the Central and Northern regions were chosen for the pilot programme, Dr Denkyira said the 2010 Census showed that teenage pregnancy was rife in the Central Region, a situation which he said could lead to a lot of them having cervical cancer in future.
He said there was, therefore, the need to vaccinate the young ones before their first sexual contact.
The Northern Region, he explained, was chosen because the 2010 Census showed that sex was mostly delayed among young girls.
Therefore, he said the Northern Region was an ideal location to immunise the girls before they could start having sexual intercourse.
Dr Dankyira said for the HPV vaccine to work best, “it is very important for adolescents to get all three doses long before sexual activity begins”.
Research, he said, had shown that the vaccine was highly effective against the commonest HPV types that cause cancer of the cervix, saying that it was only effective when all three shots were given at the required intervals.
The MoH, he said, was supporting the exercise with GH¢600,000, while an additional GH¢300,000 would be provided during the third phase of the vaccination in September this year.
The National Programme Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation of the GHS, Dr Kwadwo Odei Antwi Agyei, who gave an overview of cervical cancer, said globally 500,000 new cases were recorded accounting for nine per cent of female cancer deaths.
He said Ghana’s female population of 6.57 million aged 15 years and above were all at risk of developing cervical cancer, saying that current estimates indicated that every year, 3,038 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer out of which 2,006 died from the disease.
The Executive Director of Ruwide, Ms Maria Don-Chebe, said her organisation, which sourced for the support, would assist rural women to be self-sufficient through skills training and development.
Story by Rebecca Quaicoe-Duho