The Herald Zimbabwe’s First Lady, Auxilia Mnangagwa, yesterday officially launched the National Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination programme in Mutare expected to benefit over 800 000 girls aged between 10 and 14.
Beneficiaries will be vaccinated against cervical cancer between now and May next year.
The launch complements Government efforts to reduce cases of cervical cancer.
The programme will run from May 14-18, 2018 in all schools and thereafter, all Grade Five girls will be vaccinated annually.
The First Lady said access to the anti-cancer vaccine was key to achieving Primary Health Care principles, the provisions of the national Constitution and the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.
She urged parents and guardians to allow their daughters to access the new HPV vaccine and protect them from cervical cancer.
“Health is intractably linked to development and healthy women and mothers are a key ingredient to a wealthy nation.
“As a mother, it is therefore my wish that all eligible girls be reached with this HPV vaccination irrespective of culture, religion, social status and geographical location.
“This ensures that the strained and limited resources and efforts can be concentrated towards the cure and support of those already infected with cancer. It is imperative that all parents and guardians take this exercise seriously and get all the targeted girls in and out of school vaccinated. Do not block them. Let us do what is best,” she said.
The First Lady urged all women to be screened for cancer to avoid further loss of lives.
Through her Angel of Hope Foundation, the First Lady, has been involved in enhancing the availability of efficient and accessible screening programmes that render support to comprehensive approach to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment facilities.
“Cancer treatment remains elusive even in the most advance nations, however, early detection and effective action leads to cure, longevity and improved quality of life,” she said.
The HPV vaccine pilot project was launched in September 2014 in Beitbridge and Marondera where about 9 000 adolescent girls aged 9-14 from the two selected districts received the new anti-cancer vaccine.
The vaccine is administered twice, with the second dose given after six months and not later than two years since the first injection.
According to official statistics, an estimated 2 270 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in Zimbabwe annually with a mortality rate of 64 percent.
Health and Child Care Minister Dr David Parirenyatwa, who was represented by the principal director (Preventive) in the Ministry Dr Gibson Mhlanga, said the roll out of the vaccination programme was a great milestone in the country’s health service delivery.
“Cervical cancer has claimed the lives of many women. I am pleased that our international partners support us in our struggle to reduce cervical cancer in Zimbabwe. The HPV vaccination programme will qualitatively transform the lives and health of girls across Zimbabwe,” he said.
Dr Parirenyatwa said the burden of cervical cancer was still very high in the country.
He attributed the situation to late poor screening, diagnosis and treatment facilities, which is also compounded by the high HIV prevalence.
He said the mortality rate of cancer in the country was likely higher than the 64 percent recorded in the national cancer registry.
Some of the deaths go unreported especially in the rural areas.