The Government has launched a vaccination programme for cervical cancer meant to address high infections and related deaths among women in Zimbabwe. The incidence of cervical cancer in the country is reported to be 35 per 100,000 women compared to the global average of 15. Annually about 2,300 women are diagnosed with the cancer and almost 1,500 succumb to the condition which is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). Health minister David Parirenyatwa said the national roll-out targets 800,000 girls aged between 9 and 14. “The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended vaccinating girls before they are sexually active (between 9 and 14 years) to protect them from getting HPV infection,” said the minister this Wednesday at a press conference in Harare. “At some point in their life, seven out of every 10 girls will have this HPV through sex. We think if we start at nine years we would have done well because after 10 some start indulging.” Unicef representative Nejmudin Bilal said some of the challenges expected during the vaccination programme include reaching out of school children, resistance from the perennial vaccine objectors, myths and misconceptions, busy school programmes as well as inadequate community mobilisation and programme communication strategies. “Removing these bottlenecks requires a concerted effort and support of all stakeholders,” he said. The vaccine, which is administered twice with the second dose given after six months and not later than two years since the first injection, was successfully piloted in 2014 among at least 4 500 girls aged 9 and 13 in Marondera and Beitbridge. According to US-based Centers for Disease Control, HPV can be contracted by having vaginal, anal or oral sex with someone who has the virus. It is most commonly spread during vaginal or anal sex. HPV can be passed even when an infected person has no signs or symptoms. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if one has had sex with only one person and symptoms can take years to show. In most cases, HPV goes away on its own without causing any health problems. However sometimes it causes health problems like genital warts and cancer.

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