THE David Granger administration continues to make tangible progress pertaining to the welfare of women in Guyana, including in the area of women’s health. One of the most ambitious initiatives undertaken by the government is the HPV vaccination programme, the current phase of which commenced in October 2017.

HPV stands for the Human Papilloma Virus. HPV is actually a group of some 120 strains of viruses that can infect humans. The majority of those strains cause minor symptoms or no symptoms at all. However, there are a few strains that cause life-threatening diseases, including the dreaded cervical cancer.

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HPV infection may also result in non-cancerous warts in the genital and anal areas of both men and women, as well as growths in the head, neck, and other parts of the body. Of course, cancer is the most feared result of HPV infection, but, non-cancerous growth in the trachea (windpipe), can be life-threatening as well; such a lesion may obstruct breathing, among other serious effects. Evidently, HPV is a major health issue.

The HPV is spread primarily by intimate sexual contact; however, in less frequent instances, the virus may be spread by the use of shared objects such as razors. HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the human species. It is estimated by experts that some 80 per cent of persons are infected at some point in their lives. Fortunately, the majority of those persons experience no symptoms at all. But, for those persons who develop symptoms, the results may be deadly; and the deadliest result of infection is cervical cancer. It is estimated that over five per cent of all cancers are attributable to HPV infection.

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Only women can develop cervical cancer. Therefore, the decision by government to fight the infection and the resulting possibility of developing cancer, is of particular importance and benefit to women. Based on the advice of experts, the David Granger administration initiated a programme to make HPV vaccines available to girls who are between the ages of 9 and 13 years old. The experts have advised that it is best to vaccinate girls before they become sexually active, thereby making them immune from infection. Once a girl is immune, if she later becomes sexually active and is exposed to HPV, she will not pick up the virus; she will therefore not have to fear the possibility of developing illnesses, including the deadly cervical cancer caused by HPV.

In September 2017, The David Granger administration, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and World Health Organization (WHO), announced plans to have approximately 36,000 girls between the ages of 9-16 years immunised with the HPV vaccine. The initiative would be administered by the Ministry of Public Health. Representatives of PAHO/WHO and the Ministry of Public Health said that the team is aiming to distribute approximately 40,000 doses of the vaccine among young girls across all the regions of Guyana. The vaccination campaign began in October 2017.
According to PAHO/WHO Representative, Dr William Adu-Krow, the main purpose of the HPV vaccine is to prevent cervical cancer. He added that the vaccine also protects against genital warts in both females and males.

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Ministry of Public Health, Maternal & Child Health Officer (ag), Dr Ertinesa Hamilton in her presentation on the countrywide HPV launch, said with the goal of reducing cervical cancer locally, they will be partnering with a number of stakeholders.

Dr. Hamilton said, “We will be working in conjunction with the Ministry of Education to immunise girls in school. We have already begun the partnership with our private paediatricians for mothers who do not want to take their child to have the vaccine at school… and for all girls that we cannot reach. Especially those in remote areas and are out of school, to have outreach activities in the regions, in their villages so that we can get every girl within that age group immunised.”

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Meanwhile, Dr William Adu-Krow reminded that while not new, the HPV vaccine has been administered in several countries; he described it as the best chance of preventing cervical cancer. Over time, the Granger administration expanded the nationwide programme to include both females and males up to 16 years old.

President Granger’s commitment to improving the lives of women cannot be questioned. Remarkably, Guyana, even though we are a developing country, is one of only a handful of countries in which citizens have access to free HPV vaccination. That fact underscores President Granger’s determination to enhance the lives of women in every way possible. As the programme continues apace, Guyanese should be mindful of the work still to be done. Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence continues to urge parents to have their daughters vaccinated, thereby protecting them against cervical cancer. And, Guyanese are urged to ensure that the David Granger government remains in a position to deliver a better life to all Guyanese.

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