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Take HVP, cervical cancer seriously – Chief Medical Officer

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by: Crystal Bacchus

Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of Cancer deaths in women in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

This statistic was shared by Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Dr Simone Keizer-Beache during an interview on Monday, during which she and other health officials urged the public to take the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and Cervical Cancer seriously and to learn about the virus and the HPV vaccine.

SEARCHLIGHT spoke with Keizer-Beache as well as the manager of the Expanded Immunization Programme (EPI), Sr Ferocha Roache and Registrar at the Stubbs Polyclinic Dr Franklyn James on Monday at the EPI Manager’s Unit at Old Montrose.

Dr James and Sr Roache explained that HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that has about 100 strains in existence. HPV strains 16 and 18 cause Cervical Cancer in women, and 6 and 11 strains cause genital warts in both men and women. They described HPV as the leading cause of girls getting Cervical Cancer later in life.

Dr James explained that developing nations are most vulnerable to the Cervical Cancer and are least able to detect and treat it.

World Health Organization statistics show about 270,000 women die each year from Cervical Cancer worldwide, and 85 per cent of those deaths occur in the Third World.

“In the Third World, we are least capable of dealing with the consequences because the treatment of any kind of cancer is a very expensive venture. Secondly, the results are generally dismal in most cases. So we need to tackle prevention of the cancer,” James said.

Keizer-Beache said between 2009 and 2013, 45 women in the prime of their lives, died from Cervical Cancer in SVG.

The officials explained that although they strongly recommend that women get pap smears to detect precancerous cervical changes and Cervical Cancer early, screening is expensive and still too few women get regular pap smears.

“We have to aim for prevention and the only feasible prevention is the vaccine (HPV vaccine) and screening (pap smears)…,” James said. But screening can be impacted by constraints such as insufficient personnel and inconsistent efforts to be screened.

Keizer-Beache encouraged women to be screened for Cervical Cancer and in addition urged parents and guardians to have their daughters immunized with the HPV vaccine.

She said her daughter will be administered with the HPV vaccine once she reaches Grade 6.

“If there is a vaccine against lung cancer and you are at risk, would you take the vaccine? Or if there is a vaccine against Breast Cancer, which they are working on and you have a family history of Breast Cancer…, would you take it? I think most people would say yes, they would take it. So now there’s a vaccine against Cervical Cancer.”

The CMO said when a pap smear determines that a person has abnormal cells, dealing with the situation could be costly and if chemotherapy and radiotherapy are required, there might be long term side effects.

“So if you compare the possibilities, risks, and the costs, both financial, emotional, compared to taking the vaccine, I think there is a pretty strong argument to take the vaccine,” Keizer-Beache argued.

The Ministry of Health has started administering the vaccine to primary school girls between 11 and 12 years old.

Parents and guardians may however choose to not have their children participate.

Sr Roache said the vaccine is not being targeted to older females because a person who is already sexually active, may have very likely contracted HPV in the past, so the vaccine would not work to prevent that person from contracting the virus.

“Once you are sexually active, there is a chance you would have been infected with HPV in your lifetime but the thing is, the body would have cleared itself from the HPV, but for some, it goes on to be Cervical Cancer,” Roache said.(CB)

[UPDATED on October 26, 2017 at 7:10 am to clarify that cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death in females and removal of the morbidity statistic.]

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