St. Kitts-Nevis to introduce HPV vaccine program for pre-teens

The Ministry of Health is proposing to introduce Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for the nation’s younger citizens in 2016.

HPV is considered the most common sexually transmitted infection, contracted by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV can cause cervical and other cancers, including those related to engaging in oral sex such as cancer in the back of the throat.

The move by the local health officials to offer the vaccinations comes after a PAHO-funded study conducted earlier this year, focusing on the instances of HPV, showed that a large number of persons are engaging in risky sexual behavior that could lead to the contraction of the virus.

Senator Hon. Wendy Phipps, Junior Minister of Health, informed recently that 402 persons took part in the study on a voluntary basis.

“Of that 402, 102 persons presented with high risk behavior that would contribute to HPV. At the same time, we also note a number of persons, at least 5 or 6, had to be referred for serious care and intervention.”

She continued, “We are grateful that this study took place, because other than that some of these women who would have been at risk would not have known their status and would have had very different circumstances than they are living with right now.”

She thanked OB/GYN specialist Dr. Derek Jeffers who conducted all of the treatment interventions for free.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the HPV vaccination for all girls and boys ages 11 and 12. While nearly all cervical cancers result from HPV infections, and although the vaccine protects against the strains responsible for an estimated 90 percent of HPV-related cancers, parents and doctors in the US and other western nations have hesitated on this form of immunization for various reasons.

The introduction of the HPV vaccine for pubescent children in the federation will not be forced on parents, Minister Phipps stated.

“This is an entirely voluntary vaccine program. However what I would indicate is that it is a costly vaccine- a single dose is in the region of about US $30-$40- it has to be done in three doses and it has to be done before a child becomes sexually active.”

The health ministry will be doing “a lot of sensitization” on the issue in the new year so that parents and guardians can be aware of what they are trying to achieve in terms of cutting down on the incidents of cervical cancer and by extension all cancers. – LK Hewlett (The St Kitts & Nevis Observer)

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