All girls aged 10 years will next year in May be given a cervical cancer vaccine in a bid to rapidly build up their immunity, the Health ministry has said.
The national roll-out of the free vaccination will be offered alongside other routine infant vaccines through more than 9,000 public, private, faith-based and NGO health facilities. The girls in this age group are classified as a high-risk population.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women and biggest cause of cancer deaths. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the primary cause of 99.7 per cent of all cervical cancer cases.
Dr Rashid Aman, the Chief Administrative Secretary in the Health ministry, said they have been assured of sustainability and early next year, the first batch of vaccines will be in the country.
“We are finalising everything and we have been given the green light by our supplier, The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (Gavi), and will be shipped by our procurement agency Unicef next year,” said Dr Aman.
Gavi helps Kenya procure its vaccines through a co-financing model. Kenya pays for 10 per cent of its entire vaccine budget, about Sh400 million, while Gavi pays the other 90 per cent, around Sh4 billion, every year.
The money is used to buy vaccines for influenza, pneumonia, diarrhoea and yellow fever.
The national rollout was initially planned for early this year but was pushed to next year due to high demand from countries globally for the HPV vaccine and the need for the manufacturer to accommodate more requests from interested countries.
The rollout was scheduled after two successful pilot projects in Kitui County schools in four years demonstrated acceptability and effectiveness.
The objective of the pilot was to identify the best approaches for HPV vaccination in the context of the national immunisation programme. “This was highly successful, reaching 95 per cent of the girls in Standard Four at the time, with high acceptance,” said Dr Aman.
Dr Collins Tabu, the head of the National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme, told the Nation that all is set and they are waiting for the shipment of the vaccines.
“We are ready for the programme but, at the same time, we have to ensure we have enough vaccines so that when the rollout is here, we are not interrupted,” Dr Tabu said.
“The facility-based vaccination strategy will be supplemented with school outreaches and targeted community outreaches for girls out of school. Before the introduction, the government will invest in intensive advocacy and community mobilisation efforts and strong education sector engagement,” Dr Aman said.
Dr Tabu explained that in the first two years, the government will also implement a catch-up vaccination of all girls from 11 to 14 years, to rapidly build up their immunity. “The vaccine will be given as an injection in the upper arm in two doses, the second dose being six months after the first. Vaccination cards will be given to those who receive the vaccine,” he said.
The government, as part of the rollout plan, will support the training of school nurses on HPV vaccination and support linkage with the nearest health facility for vaccination.
Kenya reports at least 4,802 cervical cancer cases every year, 2,451 (51 per cent) of which end up in death.
In the absence of any new intervention, it is projected that Kenya will experience at least 6,000 new cases by 2025. However, at least 63 per cent of cervical cancer cases could be averted if 90 per cent coverage is reached with HPV vaccines.
The HPV vaccine also prevents other types of cancers like anal warts and cancer and vulvar cancer.
The virus is spread sexually and women tend to be infected with it at one time or another in their lives, especially during their sexual debut.
Whereas in the majority of women the immune system clears away HPV naturally, for a small percentage, the virus persists in the cervix.