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Feb 11, 2016

Healthy Living Looks at the HPV Vaccine

World Cancer Day was celebrated one week ago on February fourth.  The Belize Cancer Society as a part of the day’s commemoration debuted a documentary entitled “Taking Control, Taking action, HPV, Cervical Cancer and You.”  In collaboration with the Belize Cancer Society, Healthy Living further explores one aspect of that educational message. Tonight, we look at the merits of the HPV Vaccine.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, yet it continues to claim the lives of at least ten to twelve Belizean women every single year. The culprit is a sexually transmitted virus. A virus so common it is estimated that approximately eighty percent of sexually active persons have come in contact with this human papiloma virus or HPV. There are various strains of HPV and not all of them will lead to cancer, but if a woman contracts any of the worst strains, they become at risk of developing cervical cancer. Obstetrician and Gynecologist DoctorTracy Nicholas explains.

 

Tracy Nicholas

Dr. Tracy Nicholas, Obstetrician/Gynecologist, K.H.M.H.

“Cervical cancer is caused by the human papiloma virus, called HPV and it is changes that occur at the level of the cervix, the mouth of the womb. And if left untreated, that virus will then eventually change to a cancer. HPV, we don’t know where it comes from—we don’t know where all viruses come from—but we do know that it likes the cervix and anal canal as well. It can be found other places, but it is the most common virus that causes a sexually transmitted infection. You cannot prevent getting it because it is caused by skin to skin contact. So anytime genital to genital, for instance, even with the use of a condom, it reduces your risk but doesn’t completely prevents the spread of the virus itself.”
Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer, Maternal and Child Health Coordinator, M.O.H.

“We have done research on HPV prevalence in Belize which only demonstrates that yes we do have circulating the HPV viruses and sixteen and eighteen, which are the ones that are known to cause cervical cancer are circulating in Belize along with other of the strains of the HPV.”

 

Doctor Natalia Beer is the Maternal and Child Health Focal Point in the Ministry of Health. She explains the ongoing screening campaign that is offered to young women.

 

Natalia Largaespada Beer

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“Unfortunately we are not getting the amount of women that we would like for them to screen using the pap smear. Although we have the services available in public sector facilities, private sector and N.G.O.s, last year for example, 2013, we only managed to do eight thousand five hundred pap smears in the public sector. And more or less similar amount would add up from other sectors—private and N.G.O. But for a country to really curve the incidents and the mortality rates due to cervical cancer, one would need to have a coverage of eighty percent plus. So if we have roughly around eighty plus thousand women in reproductive age in Belize, then sixteen to twenty thousand being tested is pretty low.”

 

Recently, an additional low cost and effective screening test, the V.I.A. or visual inspection with acetic acid – was introduced in Belize. This test allows for screening, diagnosis and possible treatment with cryotherapy on the spot. A V.I.A. test that proves positive and treated will potentially change that woman’s future immediately. This is a welcomed addition. But now, there is a new prevention tool that will finally be added to the arsenal in the fight against cervical cancer.

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“We also did, in collaboration with the Pan American Health Organization, a cost effectiveness analysis for the introduction of the HPV vaccine, which is one of the most effective way of preventing cervical cancer. And that proven to be the investment is worthwhile for the prevention of cervical cancer.”

 

Dr. Tracy Nicholas
“We cannot stop sexual intercourse, per say; abstinence is the only true prevention for it. If we can actually give a vaccine before their sexual debut, then we can reduce the incidents cervical cancer.”

 

The HPV vaccine will be added to the current vaccination schedule; which also means it will be free of cost, but the actual roll out will be designed following a nationwide consultation.

 

Dr. Natalia Largaespada Beer

“For the introduction of the HPV vaccine, we definitely need to have national consultation sessions with the different stakeholders. The target population that we are looking at is ten to twelve years old and the point of distribution most effective would be the schools. So obviously we need to have discussions with faith-based organizations and the Ministry of Education; parents as much as we can through public awareness.”

 

Dr. Tracy Nicholas
“That is the cancer that is killing our young women. So we need to get cracking on that.”

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