By Agnes Kyotalengerire
GOVERNMENT is to start a programme to immunize all girls aged between nine and thirteen years against cervical cancer.
The $3.5m (about sh8.75b) programme funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) is to start in April 2015.
“We have got a grant from GAVI to support government roll out the immunization programme to the whole country next financial year. Uganda government could not afford it because the vaccine is very expensive,” said program manager non-communicable diseases, ministry of health Dr. Gerald Mutungi.
He was speaking at a national stakeholders meeting on cervical cancer screening and treatment therapy initiative organized by Marie Stopes Uganda in partnership with Reproductive Health Uganda and Programme for Accessible Health and Communication and education (PACE) at Metropole Hotel Golf Course Kampala on Wednesday.
He said since cervical cancer is a sexually transmitted disease the programme targets girls who may not have started engaging in sex and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends girls between nine and 13 years get immunised.
Mutungi said vaccinating girls is a primary preventive initiative against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection and the best intervention to reduce cervical cancer among women.
He added that once the programme will be conducted by health workers like any other immunization campaign. Once it starts, it will go on and every girl who turns eight years will be vaccinated.
The commissioner community health, Dr. Anthony Mbonye said the initiative follows a demonstration immunization programme that was started by Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) in Ibanda and Nakasongola in 2008 but later partially scaled up to 14 districts in 2010.
“The initiative was successful and generated over 80% response from the targeted age group. It is through this initiative that government held discussions with GAVI and agreed to scale up the immunization programme to girls in the country,” he said.
Cervical cancer is an uncontrollable growth of the abnormal cells in the cervix. It is the most common viral infection in the reproductive tract caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
Globally, every minute a woman is diagnosed with cervical cancer and it is estimated that there are over 500,000 new cases of cervical cancer every year. Over 85% of women who die as a result of cervical cancer live in resource constrained countries like Uganda, with limited access to cervical cancer prevention programmes according to WHO report 2006.
Mutungi said in Uganda, cervical cancer is the most common reproductive health cancer among women and accounts for up to 40% of all cancer cases in the country.
He estimates that every year, about 3600 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and about 2,500 die of the disease.
“Most of these women die at home without accessing treatment at health facilities. Cases of cervical cancer occupy up to half of the beds at the gynecological wards in Mulago National Referral Hospital,” said Mutungi.