The Ministry of Health is planning to reduce the age at which girls get the Human Papilloma Vaccines which protects against cervical cancer.
At the moment, the vaccine is given to females aged nine years of age. However, the health ministry wants to start giving the vaccine to five-year-olds.
This is part of a new plan that is aimed at increasing the uptake of the second jab of the Human Papilloma Virus which causes cervical cancer.
Previously the health ministry targeted girls aged nine years and above in school. Two jabs administered six months apart are what is needed to be fully vaccinated against cervical cancer. However, statistics from the Ugandan National Expanded Programme on Immunizations show that many girls get one jab but never receive the second one.
According to UNEPI data, uptake of the first HPV jab stands at 90 percent. However, that of the second jab is less than 50 percent.
Emmanuel Bukalu, a health promotion education officer attached to UNEPI says that they hope lowering the age at which vaccination takes place will increase uptake of the vaccines.
According to Bukalu, they think this new plan will be a success since parents will be responsible for ensuring that their children receive all the required doses of the vaccine.
This is not the first initiative that the health ministry will undertake to increase uptake of the HPV vaccine. In 2019 a multisectoral approach that included the health and education ministries plus their counterparts in the ministries of Gender, Labours and Social Development plus local governments was signed.
As part of the approach, the different stakeholders were supposed to promote the uptake of the vaccine. The education sector was supposed to introduce registers that would enable easy follow up of learners who were vaccinated to ensure they get the second jab. The gender ministry was supposed to Popularise the vaccine among mothers while local governments were supposed to sensitize communities about the vaccine.
Dr. Immaculate Ampaire, the UNEPI deputy programme manager attributes the continued slow uptake of the vaccine to the closure of schools that has made it impossible to administer the vaccines.
“We have been targeting girls in schools but due to COVID-19 that has interrupted learning, we have not been able to follow up with learners. All vaccination programmes were affected by COVID-19 but HPV has been the most affected because we rely on schools being open to administer the vaccines. We hope the situation will improve when schools are re-opened,” said Dr. Ampaire.
Failure for girls to get vaccinated exposes them to cervical cancer when they become sexually active. Cervical cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country killing as many as 4300 women annually.
While health officials might be looking at administering the HPV vaccine early, there’s no scientific proof that this has been done elsewhere in the world.
Drug recommendation authorities like the U.S Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organisation recommend that the vaccine be administered between 11 and 12 years of age for both boys and girls.