Recently, the Ministry of Health rolled out a vaccine against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is understood to be the main cause of cancer of the cervix.
Despite widespread support, a few individuals have gone on a campaign against this vaccine, creating and spreading conspiracy theories that flip from one idea to the next.
They have made logically unsupportable arguments about the efficacy of the vaccine and its potentially harmful effects.
There has been a worrying emergence of social media ‘experts’ who are urging parents not to allow their children to get the vaccine, arguing that vaccinating girls will encourage them to have indiscriminate sex and increase immorality.
Further, they argue that cervical cancer is not a big enough problem for a national vaccination campaign to be rolled out, and that instead of vaccination, we should be mounting campaigns on abstinence and faithfulness in marriage.
The truth is that cervical cancer is a major health problem in this country. Thousands of Kenyan women are diagnosed with this condition every year, and more than half of them die.
It has been established that certain types of HPV are responsible for this disease, and researchers have come up with a vaccine that boosts the body’s immunity against it, significantly reducing the risk of cervical cancer.
This is why the government felt that it was necessary to roll out a campaign to vaccinate young girls against this virus in order to try and eliminate this cancer that makes the lives of our women miserable.
Others have come up with a long list of purported side effects of the vaccine in a bid to convince parents to avoid it.
What they have neglected to tell the consumers of their information is that all medical interventions have risks and benefits, and decisions are made to offer these interventions only when the benefits of use outweigh the risks.
In fact, if a doctor was to prescribe plain water to a patient, she would have to inform the patient that water carries a drowning risk, and that taking too much water can cause electrolyte imbalance, which is potentially fatal.
Would this warrant a water boycott? We are living in an age when people are more enlightened and require to be given full information on treatment offered to them.
This is a good thing as it allows clients to take charge of their own health.
We must however never assume that expert advice can be replaced by our own uneducated opinions.
We are all entitled to our own opinions, but we are not entitled to our own facts. It is dangerous to base opposition to medical interventions on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.
It is even more dangerous to place social media opinions on the same pedestal as the advice from your doctor.
Even in this anti-intellectual age, our lives and health are still too important to be left at the mercy of scaremongers and conspiracy theorists.
Prof Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Moi University School of Medicine. [email protected]