An official from TNCDA addresses secondary school students during a breast cancer awareness exercise in Tanzania

Cervical Cancer is a painful, dangerous and deadly Non-Communicable Disease (NCD). Cervical cancer is the second-highest cause of mortality in women worldwide, affecting women aged 15 – 44 years (MAYO Clinic, 2021). Kenya reported approximately 5,236 newly diagnosed cervical cancer cases in 2020.

However, all hope is not lost. This frightening situation can be reversed with many lives saved and re-occurrence avoided if stakeholders including parents, medical experts, Governments, Civil Society Organisations and communities focus on prevention strategies.

True to the adage that prevention is better than cure, it is evident from research that NCDs such as cervical and liver cancers are preventable through vaccination. It has been proven through studies that the high incidence and mortality due to cervical cancer can be reversed if girls and boys are vaccinated before their exposure to sexual activities. Studies highlight that the HPV vaccine provides a chance to reduce cervical cancer amongst 90% of women vaccinated at a younger age.

It is against this background that the HPV Vaccine Campaign was rolled out in October 2019, backed by the GAVI Alliance and World Health Organisation (WHO), with the goal of immunizing 800,000 pre-adolescent girls aged 10 -12 years every year, free of charge. To save more lives, the HPV Vaccine Campaign was re-launched in 2021, at population level, making it available to all girls between 10–14 years (Ngune et al., 2020).

Vaccines to the rescue

To deepen the cervical cancer prevention strategies, the Non-Communicable Disease Alliance Kenya and Uganda Non Communicable Diseases Alliance through support from MSD, conducted a week-long sensitisation and awareness campaign on vaccination of young girls from 13th – 19th September 2021.

The campaign themed, ‘Prevent Now for the Future,’ leveraged on equipping journalists with knowledge on prevention of NCDs that they could share with the public through various media reporting.

In addition, a pool of experts and stakeholders including persons with lived experience were drawn to share insights and facts on the status of cervical cancer control in countries, progress of vaccination and to dispel all myths surrounding the vaccine.

Besides running social media campaigns to reach out to the general population, the alliances engaged with journalists through media roundtable discussions to empower them with information and to get their perspective on cervical cancer prevention. The two-hour online discussion culminated into calls to action specific to Governments, journalists, Civil Society Organisations, and the general population.

The media roundtable discussions led to clear calls to action for communities and all stakeholders. It was evident that the communities needed to prioritise the vaccination of young girls as a strategy for preventing occurrence of over 90% of cervical cancer cases in their generation. The communities were called upon to adopt the HPV vaccine and to take all eligible girls for vaccination.

In the same vein, civil society organisations were tasked to respond to the needs of persons living with Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) by empowering them with knowledge to hold Governments accountable for cervical cancer prevention and control.

Governments were urged to take actions to improve the outcome of survivorship and to strictly implement the policies and strategies for management of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

In addition, the provision of uninterrupted access to healthcare services was considered as vital to cancer prevention and management.

References

  1. WHO. 2020. How Do Vaccines Work?
  2. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination: What everyone should know. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed May 20, 2021.
  3. Ngune I, Kalembo F, Loessl B, Kivuti-Bitok LW (2020) Biopsychosocial risk factors and knowledge of cervical cancer among young women: A case study from Kenya to inform HPV prevention in Sub-Saharan Africa. PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237745.

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