Health Ministry starts HPV-vaccination drive

The original article can be found in: The Daily Herald

PHILIPSBURG–The Ministry of Public Health, Social Development and Labour officially launched the implementation of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine for girls ages 9-10 on Tuesday afternoon.

“Today is a special day,” said Minister of Public Health, Social Development and Labour Cornelius de Weever. “I thank the Department for their work done to make sure that we can start this month in protecting our young women to avoid cervical cancer in the future,” the Minister said during a press conference organised by Collective Prevention Services (CPS) of Section Youth Health Care.

The vaccination drive will start with the distribution of vaccination consent forms and information sheets at all primary schools. Schoolgirls ages 9-10 will be vaccinated with the HPV vaccine, which is to prevent 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, according to CPS.

The vaccines will be administered in October, after the girls’ parents/guardians have signed the consent forms and returned them to the schools. Minister De Weever urged all parents to participate.

Cervical cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women. HPV is a highly infectious virus transmitted through genital contact during sexual activity. In almost all cases cervical cancer does not give any symptoms until it is quite advanced and cannot be treated anymore.

All women can get cervical cancer, which occurs most often in women over age 30, but it can also affect younger women. Almost all cervical cancers (99 per cent) are caused by an infection with HPV.

Cervical cancer may be prevented through vaccination against HPV, and by regular PAP-smears and HPV-DNA testing.

Within the national vaccination schedule only the target group of girls aged 9 and 10 will be receiving the HPV vaccine free of charge. Other girls and women can be vaccinated via their family doctor.

The vaccine will be given in the upper arm via an injection. Three doses of the HPV vaccine will be administered within a six-month period at the schools by medical staff and nurses of Section Youth Health Care.

“For years St. Maarten is having a national vaccination programme to protect the youth against diseases. It is a special landmark for the Ministry of Health to prevent women from obtaining cervical cancer,” said Head of CPS Virginia Asin-Oostburg.

Youth Health Care physician Josien van Wijk said that information sheets and posters will be distributed among general practitioners, clinics and pharmacies. Interviews on radio and television, town hall meetings for parents and other interested persons, as well as CPS’s Facebook page will be used to provide information and to answer questions. Schools and non-governmental organisations will be provided with information packages.

“The most comprehensive available vaccine will be used,” said gynaecologist of Women’s Health Services Dr. Randall Friday. “It is to prevent all future problems surrounding cervical cancer,” he said.

Friday stated that he is seeing an increase in the number of women in his clinic with cervical cancer. He deemed the vaccination programme “very important” and said it will lead to a healthier St. Maarten.

Paediatrician at St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) Dr. Pieter Offringa called the vaccination programme a “real step forward.”

Friday stressed that the programme is not mandatory, but voluntary. Nevertheless, he urged everyone to participate, adding that the vaccine is recommended for women up to age 26. He said the vaccine was very safe. The most noticeable side-effects are redness, bruising, itching, swelling and pain. “The side-effects are very minor, just like with other vaccines,” Friday stated.

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