A shot at a cervical cancer free life

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bloemfontein – Even though the little girl’s hands were trembling at the thought of having an injection in her arm, little Nolubabalo Palesa Qhautse put on a brave face when it was her turn to get vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).

But her mother, Dimakatso Qhautse, stood vigil as Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi administered the HPV vaccine.

Nolubalalo, aged 9, was among the Grade 4 learners from Gonyane Primary School in Mangaung, who received their first dose of the HPV vaccine from the minister.

She told SAnews that she only knew that the vaccine was going to protect her against cervical cancer, as she was told by her mother.

“She didn’t tell me in detail what cervical cancer is, but she promised me that the vaccine is going to protect me. The injection was and is still painful. I almost cried but I myself held back because there were so many people watching us,” she said.

Qhautse, who came to the school to witness the launch of the HPV vaccine campaign said, she was relieved that her daughter would be protected from the virus, which she said almost killed her mother.

“My mother had cervical cancer and her womb had to be removed. Fortunately, she survived. When I heard about the campaign launch, I didn’t hesitate and signed the consent form from the school immediately. Thanks to government, our children will not experience what most women go through due to the virus,” said Qhautse.

HPV campaign begins in earnest

Today, South Africa took a major step in the safeguarding of women’s health as Minister Motsoaledi rolled out the first HPV vaccine campaign, which will protect young girls from getting cervical cancer caused by the HP-virus.

The campaign will see all girls in Grade four, who are nine years and older, being vaccinated during March and April. After six months, the same girls will receive the second dose of the vaccine.

The national vaccination campaign was announced by Minister Motsoaledi in 2013 during his Budget Speech. An estimated number of 500 000 girls in 17 000 schools will be vaccinated.

During his address, a proud Minister Motsoaledi said the country was making history and the day marked the beginning of the effective prevention of cervical cancer. He said although the vaccine is a bit pricey -- as each dose costs between R700 and R1000 in the private sector -- he was determined to get the vaccine for the people.

“Today, South Africa is one of the few countries on the continent to provide this vaccine to all Grade 4 learners. On this continent, we are the first to vaccinate as many as half a million girls. The one country which provides this vaccine is Zambia and it only gives 25 000 vaccines. It’s a serious disease affecting women in the world,” Dr Motsoaledi said.

Saving lives

He also noted that 6 000 women get cervical cancer every year. About 80% are African women. Between 3 000 and 3 500 will die annually, even after treatment.

“Half of them are between ages 35 and 55 years,” he said, urging women to get screened for cervical cancer.

The minister also thanked parents for agreeing to vaccinate their children and assured them that health policies were based on best evidence, including the department’s own experts’ committee, which advises the department.

He said that although girls from the higher grades have missed out on the vaccination, the department would make sure that every learner from Grade R will get the vaccine when they reach Grade 4 to reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in the near future.

Treasury has allocated R400 million for the campaign.

Executive Director at Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, Professor Helen Rees, said the vaccination of girls at a young age would lower infection rates, and would also reduce infection in boys.

“... If we can get the coverage in young girls up high enough, there’s a benefit for young boys because as you decrease the infection [in girls], there will be less infection in boys,” said Rees.

First Lady Thobeka Madiba-Zuma, who also witnessed the roll out of the vaccine, commended government for the intervention, noting that many women died painful deaths due to breast and cervical cancers.

“For us, as African First Ladies, this is a dream come true. South Africa today is witnessing a huge milestone, a step towards the right direction, which is prevention is better than cure.

“We know what needs to be done. If not us, then who? If not now, then when? What are we waiting for? Women have to play a meaningful role in the economy of our country. Their health should be at the centre of the agenda,” said Madiba-Zuma.

She also pledged her full support to the programme, adding that through this campaign, South Africa was investing in the future of women and girl children.

Mangaung mayor T Manyoni welcomed the campaign. He further thanked President Jacob Zuma for his declaration that young girls will be vaccinated this year.

“I think we need to celebrate this moment. It’s a cause for celebration..." Mayor Manyoni said, adding that HPV was never given priority in the past.

Free State Basic Education MEC Tate Pule Makgoe said he was pleased that the programme was launched in his province. He also thanked President Zuma for making health and education a priority. “We support the programme because a world without health is useless.”

Prior to the launch, the school governing bodies were contacted and parents were given consent forms to sign for their children to be vaccinated. About 3 000 health workers have been trained to administer the vaccine. – SAnews.gov.za

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