AIDS Foundation ‘strongly calls’ for boys to be vaccinated for HPV

The original article can be found in: The Daily Herald

COLE BAY–The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme for girls recently announced by the Ministry of Public Health is “a commendable initiative,” says St. Maarten AIDS Foundation, a non-profit active in the field of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). The Foundation advised government that it would be “even more effective” if boys were to be included in the target group to be vaccinated.

“Boys are just as susceptible to HPV infections that could lead to long-term health consequences,” the Foundation said in a press statement.

The government’s HPV programme puts St. Maarten in line with other developed countries in protecting against preventable infections and their complications, notably cancer.

HPV is responsible not only for 99 per cent of cervical cancer in women, but also for penile, anal or throat cancers. Women can do a cervical smear to detect HPV, while men have no such equivalent test, leaving them vulnerable to undetected infections until the virus progresses to cancerous stages, the Foundation statement explained.

Sexually active women should also continue to do regular Pap smear tests to detect cancerous changes in the cervix. Early detected cervical cancer can be cured while late stage cervical cancer is more difficult to treat.

It should be noted as well that the HPV vaccination does not make a woman immune to all HPV types. There are more than 150 types of HPV of which some increase the risk for (cervical) cancer, others cause genital warts and some have no consequences.

The vaccine introduced in St. Maarten protects against two of the most prevalent cancer-causing HPV strains and two strains that cause genital warts.

Local research indicated that there are some other HPV strains circulating in St. Maarten that increase cancer risk, but are not covered by the vaccine, the Foundation said. “So Pap smears continue to be important as an early detection tool, vaccination will certainly reduce the future prevalence of HPV in our country. Vaccinating boys would increase ‘herd immunity’ whereby a high immunisation rate among a population ultimately lowers infection risks even for non-immune people.”

“The current issue is cost, and while it is understandable to target girls first, it is hoped that funding could be secured in the near future to vaccinate boys as well and achieve a greater immunisation rate overall,” the Foundation stated.

“St. Maarten would then be following the steps of the United States, Canada and Australia in reducing HPV-related cancer burden in men, as well as contributing to an even further reduction of HPV-related cancer burden in women.”

The AIDS Foundation encourages all parents to give their daughters consent for the vaccination programme and become more informed about HPV, its consequences and the vaccine, so they can better educate their sons and daughters.

The Foundation reminds the public that HPV is but one of the many STIs that affect the community. “Care should always be given when engaging in sexual activities, with consistent and correct condom usage, maintaining faithful relationships and frank discussions about sexual histories between partners, as well as testing for STIs.”

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