Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection, and yet like most things sex-related, it’s never directly addressed or spoken about as it should be in Indian schools. It’s so common that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that nearly everyone who is sexually active contracts it at some point in their lives. But, what’s important to note is that regardless of its commonality, there are many different types of HPV, and regular screenings and check-ups are important as certain strains can lead to severe health problems; namely strain 6 and 11 that cause genital warts, and for women the cancer-causing strains 16 and 18.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer to afflict women in India, coming in after breast cancer. 1,22,844 new cervical cancer cases and 67,477 related deaths occur each year in the country according to the HPV India Report 2015, with women facing a 2.5 percent cumulative lifetime risk and 1.4 percent cumulative fatality risk from cervical cancer. The most common cause, accounting for 1,08,900 cases as per a WHO analysis, is HPV. Though the effectiveness of preventive vaccinations is terribly fraught terrain with heated debates and controversies, it’s emerging as the most effective option for many despite continuing examinations and questions of its efficacy, immunogenicity, and more so, its safety for young girls.
To combat the rising level of cervical cancer cases in the country, a vaccination programme in schools is set to begin with Delhi being the first state to launch the initiative to protect teenage girls against the disease. As reported by the Indian Express, Health Minister Satyendar Jain stated at the international workshop for cancer awareness, prevention, screening and early detection for SAARC nations on Monday, that the programme will target girls between age nine to thirteen next year. "This year we are focused on vaccinating girls Class VI girl students. The programme will start in next three to four months," the Indian Express quoted Jain. He added that 1-1.5 lakh school girls are the target of the first phase of the vaccination programme, and as of now only government schools are to be included, later expanding the initiative to private schools and covering a wider age group. Two doses of the vaccine will be given, administered within thirty days of each other with a third booster dose within 240 days of the first vaccine. The central government plans to include the HPV vaccine in the ‘universal immunisation programme’ as well, but no decision has been made as of now.
Feature image courtesy www.over-vaccination.net