“Cervical Cancer Elimination is Feasible.” This was the take-home message from the Symposium themed “Cervical Cancer Elimination is Feasible: Update on HPV Vaccines” co-hosted by the Kenyatta National Hospital and the University of Nairobi. The event held on Wednesday 31st July 2019 saw a series of presentations and a panel discussion by different authority voices on women’s reproductive health. 

The Lecture Theatre 3 at the University of Nairobi’s school of medicine played host to the meeting that saw an attendance of over 300 individuals drawn from diverse fields, all interested in gaining a better perspective on the steps made towards the elimination of cervical cancer in the country.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and statistics have it that 80% of all women will have contracted the infection by their 50th year of age. It causes genital warts and a number of cancers in the genital tract as well as in the mouth and throat. 100% of all cervical cancer cases are attributed to HPV infection in both high and low-income countries. HPV types 16, 18, 31, 33 and 45 carry the highest oncogenic risk amongst its over 100 types. 

The human papillomavirus vaccine confers protection to individuals against the high-risk HPV types thus eliminating the risk of developing cervical cancer. Backed by evidence from research, the presenters underscored this point that showed 100% efficaciousness in preventing cervical cancer in individuals who hadn’t been exposed to the virus prior to their vaccination. The efficacy of the vaccine decreases in individuals who have already been exposed to the virus. 

Vaccine hesitancy in the country was addressed as a pertinent issue that we cannot afford to ignore as a country. Delay in acceptance, and rejection of the government’s vaccination intent from different stakeholders such as the Catholic church through statements issued by the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA) has been seen to erode the public’s confidence in the vaccine. Continued public education and stakeholder engagement was said to be the best way forward to gain the goodwill of all parties involved. 

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s deputy director for Integrated Clinical Vaccine Development, Dr Peter Dull highlighted the Foundation’s programmes towards ensuring availability of the HPV vaccines in different low-middle income countries in the world. He leads the foundation’s vaccine activities for HPV vaccines, including efforts aiming at reducing dose schedules from the current two-dose regimen to a single dose regimen. A number of professionals involved in its research program, the KEN SHE study (Kenya Single Dose HPV Vaccine Efficacy study), highlighted their objectives and intended results on the single-dose regiment that would be more effective in the Kenyan setting.

The ministry of health representatives outlined the vaccine rollout program set for September 2019 throughout the country targeting adolescent girls in the 10-14 years’ age bracket. The campaign will be targeting girls before their sexual debut as the virus is transmitted through sexual contact, and the vaccine’s efficacy is maximal before one is exposed to the virus. Administration of the vaccine to the female population has been shown to extend protection over the virus in the male population too.

Cervical cancer is leading cancer in the country, with 4802 reported cases resulting in 2451 deaths annually. The symposium expressed optimism towards its elimination through the vaccines and thus stamping on the theme “Cervical cancer elimination is feasible”. 

A guest post contributed by Kimathi Makini, a 5th-year student, Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Nairobi

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