Ministry advancing HPV vaccination programme

Although a vaccine shortage resulted in the stalling of the Ministry of Public Health’s Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme at one point, Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, has assured that this challenge is a thing of the past.
“We have vaccines now and I am happy that we do have again,” said Dr. Persaud as he disclosed that the Ministry had some intermittent disruptions of stock availability.
The HPV vaccination programme was introduced in January 2012 as a $40 million venture. It was launched at the East La Penitence Health Centre by then Minister of Health, Dr. Bheri Ramsaran, and targeted young girls between the ages of 11 and 13 at selected schools.
HPV can cause cervical cancer. A potential impact of contracting cervical cancer is the development of other health conditions such as genital warts and even cancers of the anus, vagina and vulva.
Dr. Ramsaran had informed that one of the vaccines can cost as much as US$14, making it arguably the most expensive vaccination programme administered by the Ministry. The former Minister had, on multiple occasions, deemed the programme a success. But, in March 2014 an official close to the Ministry disclosed that there were no vaccines, ultimately bringing the programme to a standstill.
Dr. Persaud divulged recently that the programme had benefited from three replacement stocks before the disruption situation. “This is a serial vaccine so whoever starts has to finish…Because we had that problem we weren’t starting new people because we couldn’t guarantee three doses,” the CMO disclosed.
But the past year deliberate efforts were made to complete the outstanding doses for those who were vaccinated, paving the way for the advancement of the programme. “Now we have to start fresh groups again, so we have prioritised and we are now in the process of doing some sensitisation,” said Dr. Persaud as he expressed hope that it would be an achievable task to reach the target group in light of the an announcement by the Education Ministry that over 90 per cent of school age children are in school.
“We had excellent coverage in Regions Three, Four, Six and other coastal regions but this time around we really want to focus on the hinterland areas. The idea is to try to get to everyone in the vulnerable age group…it is not a whole lot in the hinterland regions and I think we can do all but getting to all sometimes could be a challenge,” said Dr. Persaud.
He is however optimistic that the move by the health sector to have larger centralised schools in the hinterland areas could be useful to the vaccination programme.
The CMO, however, asserted that the vaccine can only be effective if it reaches young girls before their onset of sexual activity. “The vaccine is to help with prevention. So once you are vaccinated with the HPV vaccine your body will develop the antibodies against the virus. If the virus does come along, your body will be able to isolate and destroy it quickly but if it is there already I don’t know if the vaccine will work – That is the crux of the matter,” he added.
According to Dr. Persaud, there have been some adult females who have been seeking to have the HPV vaccine administered to them too. “We do try to facilitate some but if you are already there, you are already there,” said the CMO.
He stressed the need for a lot of education regarding HPV vaccination. He related though that there are some prevailing misconceptions many of which have been addressed since the start of the programme.
Some of the misconceptions have been linked to the vaccine being used by the local health sector. Dr. Persaud however asserted that Gardasil, the vaccine being used by the health sector, is globally recognised and is recommended by the World Health Organisation.
While there have been considerations about offering the vaccine to young boys as well, Dr. Persaud said that this will have to be determined by Government as it would mean that twice the amount of drugs will have to be procured.
But the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) last year committed assistance to the Public Health Ministry to aid its HPV vaccination programme. This was disclosed by PAHO’s Dr. Janice Woolford.
Dr. Woolford formerly headed the Health Ministry’s Maternal and Child Health Unit. She at a joint PAHO/Ministry of Public Health meeting in August of last year admitted that there was a problem with the vaccination programme.
“We initially had some problems with it (HPV programme) but the vaccines will soon be here…” Dr. Woolford had assured.(Kaieteur News)

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