By Kondwani Magombo
Government, in partnership with WHO and Unicef, has launched national Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine campaign targeting over 240,000 girls aged 9 across the country to protect them against cervical cancer.
The launch took place at St. Charles Lwangwa Primary School at Namiyasi in Mangochi on Thursday with calls for chiefs, parents and all stakeholders to ensure that none of the targeted girls is left behind.
Minister of Health and population Services, Atupele Muluzi, who stood in for the First Lady, Madam Gertrude Mutharika, said he was very excited with the introduction of the vaccine across Malawi especially at the time the country has the highest prevalence rate of the disease in the world.
Muluzi described cervical cancer as the largest cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 49 years in Malawi and that the disease could largely be prevented with the HPV vaccine.
“Last year we had about 4,163 new cases diagnosed and 2,879 women died of cervical cancer,” disclosed Muluzi, adding, “…Vaccines are one of the most cost effective public health interventions available as they save millions of people from illness, disability and death every year.”
According to the minister, cancer of the cervix of the uterus affects women across the world and 85 percent of them are from developing countries including Malawi.
The vaccine will officially roll out on Monday, January 14 in all public and private schools, health clinics and hospitals across the country and the minister urged the general public to take the campaign serious.
“I urge the parents of all girls – both school going and those in the village not attending school – aged 9 to ensure that they get vaccinated with HPV vaccine to reduce their risk in future of getting infected with HPV and to reduce the risk of contracting cervical cancer,” said Muluzi.
Principal Secretary (PS) Dr. Dan Namalika, concurred with the minister in his speech and urged parents and guardians to support the campaign by getting all 9-year-old girls vaccinated.
“The challenge we have in Malawi is that our health services are free and due to this, people do not take things seriously,” observed Namalika. “But if we are to consider how much money has been pumped into this vaccine we will realize why it’s important to participate as one dose of vaccine cost K100,000.”
The HPV vaccine is in two doses and the other one is supposed to be administered six months after the first vaccine, according to Namalika.
Acting WHO Representative, Dr. Fabian Ndenzako, hailed Malawi government for the initiative and he described the HPV vaccine that Malawi is introducing as WHO prequalified product with high safety, efficacy and effectiveness profiles.
According to Ndenzako, Malawi is the 12th country in Africa to have HPV Vaccine introduced in their national immunization programs with eight more African countries to join the vaccine this year.
The vaccine is being implemented with financial support and supply chain from GAVI-The Vaccine Alliance, a public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to immunization in poor countries.
GAVI will procure for Malawi HPV vaccines worth more than US$22million from 2018 – 2021, according to Ministry of Health and Population Services.
Five girls from St. Charles Lwangwa Primary School were vaccinated in the presence of the Minister of Health and Population Services to symbolize the official launch of the campaign.