By Sarjo Camara Singateh
The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare is piloting a two year vaccination campaign targeting grade three children in the West Coast Region and their peers out of school to prevent this targeted group from being vulnerable to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which is the main cause of cervical cancer in many women. According to Dr. Patrick Idoko, cancer is an abnormal growth in the cervix, the opening into the womb, the child-bearing organ in women. Dr. Patrick was speaking at a press conference organized by the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare at the Central Medical Store Conference Hall on Thursday 6 November 2014.
He said cervical cancer is the fourth most common among women world wide. Dr. Patrick said more than 500,000 new cases and 250,000 deaths are recorded every year. He asserted that more than 80% of these deaths occur in developing countries. He pointed out that a Sub-Saharan woman dies of cervical cancer every 10 minutes. The head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital and Lecturer and Course Coordinator Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of The Gambia, Dr. Patrick Idoko said records reveal that 98 Gambian are diagnosed of cervical cancer and 57 deaths occur every year and among these 80% come very late.
Dr. Patick Idoko said cervical cancer is preventable, detectable and treatable before it is late. He noted that cervical cancer takes 10 years before it can be diagnosed. He said more than 95% of cases of cancer of the cervix is due to infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Speaking at the press briefing, Dr. Mustapha Bittaye, of Edward Francis Teaching Hospital said the vaccine that they are about to pilot is safe. He added that other countries have already introduced it, but The Gambia is just coming up with the support of their partners. He noted that this is the government’s strategy to combat cervical cancer.
Mr. Saharu Kanteh, of the Expanded Programme on Immunization, at the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare said immunization is one of the most cost effective public health interventions. Mr. Kanteh said since the establishment of the Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) in 1979; they have introduced several vaccines like Hepatitis B in 1990 Haemophilus influenza type B (HIb) in 1997, Pneumococcal (PCV)-7 valent in August 2009 and switch PCV-13 in 2011, Measles (MCV)-2 in 2012, Rotavirus (Rota) in 2013 and today the HPV vaccine. He said so far EPI has conducted vaccination on 11 diseases.
Mr. Momodou Gassama, Health Promotion and Education Officer, World Health Organization Country Office said the cohort group that is targeted is the cream of the society. He challenged media practitioners to disseminate the message properly especially those translated into our various national languages. Mr Gassama said to send a proper and accurate message to your audience is one of the principles of a good communicator.
Mr. Kebba Gibba of WHO also called on the media to send clear and positive information about the campaign. He said considering the gravity of cervical cancer, making a contingency plan to avert that is a step in the right direction. Mr. Momodou Saho, the Deputy Director of Health Promotion and Education Section, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare said two doses of the vaccination will be given to each girl in a period of six months.