Dept considers introduction of cervical cancer vaccines

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pretoria - The Department of Health is considering introducing two vaccines to prevent new cases of cervical cancer.

The two Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines have been registered in South Africa and are presently available in the private sector. One vaccine targets cervical cancer only and the other targets both cervical cancer as well as genital warts.

The department is looking to find the resources needed for the introduction of these vaccines. A cost-benefit analysis will also be needed to decide which of the two vaccines would be more beneficial to the country.

This is according to a statement released by the Department, following the 3rd Cervical Cancer Africa Conference, which ended in Cape Town on Monday.

The conference saw ministers and deputy ministers of health and women's affairs, parliamentarians, researchers and scientists, advocacy groups and the First Ladies of Africa, plotting a way forward on how to manage cervical cancer.

In South Africa, women have a 1 in 40 chance of contracting cervical cancer in their lifetime and the disease is common among women with HIV. Around 80 percent of the estimated 500 000 annual cases of cervical cancer occur in developing countries.

According to the department, South Africa has a strong academic and resource base to enable it to establish an effective cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment programme.

"Initial discussions have been conducted with academia including clinicians, researchers that would form an overarching advisory group with the aim of providing evidence-based direction to the department," it said.

A review of the National Cancer Control Programme will also be undertaken before the end of the year. This will provide the department with a clear direction on improvements that are needed to achieve optimal quality care.

The department also needs an effective National Cancer Registry which will be a useful tool for planning and budgeting for activities that are aimed at the prevention and treatment of cancers.

"We are confident that these two initiatives will help us provide an effective, affordable and sustainable cancer control programme," said Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Molefi Sefularo.

He called on more role players to support the department in consolidating an affordable and sustainable programme

"Given our resource constraints, we need to carefully plan the basket of services that we provide and gradually increase this package of services. At the same time, we need to ensure that quality does not decline.

"We also need to strengthen social mobilization and advocacy to educate girls and women about the benefits of screening for cervical cancer," he said.

In 2004, South Africa set a target of screening 70 percent of the target population of 30 years and above within a period of 10 years, which would translate to 5 922 991 women.

By June 2009, the National Health Laboratory Services (NHLS) had handled 2 101 313 which is almost 50 percent of the target. The department still needs to disaggregate the data to differentiate the screening coverage from the diagnostic figures.