A doctor holds a vial of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine Gardasil. File photo: AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast.

DURBAN - The campaign to protect girls against cervical cancer is in full swing at public schools across the City of Johannesburg. 

Trained and equipped city health workers are hard at work visiting 520 schools in all the seven regions to administer the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV1) vaccine to girl pupils aged nine years. 

The campaign aims to reduce the incidence of cancer of the cervix through the introduction of the vaccine before they (learners) are exposed to HPV infection.

The city’s health department plans to reach about 30 000 pupils during the campaign. The vaccine is administered in two doses. The first dose (HPV1) started on 5 February and will continue until 15 March 2019. 

The second dose (HPV2) will be given on 6 August and will continue until 20 September 2019.  To be vaccinated, pupils need to produce consent forms signed by parents/guardians. 

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the primary underlying cause of cervical cancer, which is transmitted through skin to skin contact and is a common virus infecting most people at some point in their lives. There are different types of HPV and some virus types can infect the cells that lead to cancer. 

About 40 types of HPV are sexually transmitted through genital contact, while mostly two types (16 + 18) are considered to be high risk in South Africa. High risk types are estimated to cause: 70% of cervical cancers; 50% of vaginal & vulvar cancers; and 20% of head and neck cancers.

The annual campaign started in 2014 in the City of Johannesburg and is done it in partnership with the National Department of Health and the Basic Education Department. 

The vaccine has been used in more than 130 countries globally.

Member of the Mayoral Committee, Councillor Mpho Phalatse said the city through its health department is committed to driving the campaign and other prevention programmes to ensure that girls are protected from cervical cancer.  

Phalatse said the cases of teenage pregnancy that we see within our city are clear indication that our girls are starting to have sex at a younger age, and that they do not always practice safe sex.  

“Given the fact that cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted virus, and that the period just after a woman’s sexual debut is known to be the peak time for infection, it is extremely important that we immunize our girls against HPV before they even start having sex,” Phalatse said.

According to the World Health Organisation, an estimated 570,000 new cases of cervical cancer were diagnosed worldwide in 2018.

“We urge parents of Grade 4 girl children aged nine years and above to cooperate with us and give the necessary consent for their girls to receive this life-saving intervention. 

"It would be a serious indictment on us as government and parents if even a single one of these young ones is one day diagnosed with this now perfectly preventable condition,” she said.

African News Agency (ANA)