The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccination presents a very good opportunity for public health in Sierra Leone: HPV is one of the core reasons behind cervical cancer and 85% of cervical cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. The HPV vaccine prevents the infection with two types of human papillomavirus known to lead to about 70% of cervical cancers.
In 2013 the Government of Sierra Leone together with UNICEF, the WHO and with support of the GAVI Alliance has launched the two-year HPV demonstration project in Bo District.
In order to prevent the acquisition of HPV, a sexually transmitted infections, the HPV vaccine targets girls before they become sexually active. WHO recommends that the currently licensed HPV vaccines should primarily be targeting at 9–13 year old girls. Due to large numbers of teenage pregnancies that point to early sexual activity in Sierra Leone, it was decided to focus on girls who are 9 years old.
The aim of the demonstration project is to effectively vaccinate all 9 year old girls in Bo with three doses, which are required for immunization. This involves the registration of eligible girls as well as active communication around the advantages of the vaccine. The first two rounds of vaccination already took place in September and November 2013 respectively. The third round takes place this week (5-9 May 2014).
Following a successful demonstration, the Government, the UN and health partners hope to scale-up the efforts by introducing the HPV vaccine into its national routine immunization programme. “The positive impacts of the vaccine will only become apparent after many years”, says UNICEF Country Representative Roeland Monasch, “however, it is important to act now and we are happy to support the Government in making this long term investment.”
*** by Rosmarie E. K. Jah, Reports Officer, External Relations and Advocacy, UNICEF Sierra Leone