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Kenyan doctors warn against HPV vaccination of girls

NAIROBI (CNS): Members of the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association have warned against a mass human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccination programme for young girls planned for September. The infection is sexually transmitted and can lead to cancer of the cervix.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health arranged for two free doses of the vaccine—administered 10 months apart— to be given to 10-year-old girls. The vaccines will be available at 9,000 private, public and faith-based health facilities.
However, the doctors’ association expressed concern that the vaccine can cause severe side effects, including brain damage, seizures or paralysis. They point out that the vaccine has not undergone necessary clinical trials in the country.
“We don’t think the vaccine is necessary. HVP is sexually transmitted and does not make sense to vaccine everyone against a sexually transmitted disease that can be controlled through behaviour change,” Wahome Ngare, a gynecologist and a member of the Catholic doctors group, explained.
“The side effects are too risky for anyone to even dare,” he added.
For their part, the Kenya Catholic Bishops’ Conference has not offered an opinion on the vaccination programme.
Ngare explained that the vaccination would prevent cervical cancer but HPV. He instead urged a widespread adoption of the simpler and more effective Pap smear test for early cancer detection.
Despite the doctors’ warning, the government is preparing to roll out the mass vaccination. Ministry of Health officials met on August 20 with partners in the programme, including the World Health Organisation (WHO).
“By vaccinating our girls against HPV, we are preventing the disease for life. They will be able to grow, live up to their full potential and prosper,” Rudi Eggers, the WHO Kenya representative told the Daily Nation.
The government maintains that cervical cancer is the second most common form of the disease among women in Kenya, trailing only breast cancer. It contributes to 5,250, about 12.9 per cent, of all cancer cases reported annually, and 3,286 deaths, about 11.8 per cent, caused by the disease yearly.
“Preventing HPV infections would result in the prevention of cervical cancer,” Collins Tabu, the Ministry of Health’s head of immunisation, said.
However, Ngare said the doctors’ association decided to make its views known so that women can make an informed decision.
The association has distributed a study on the vaccine to the country’s Catholic bishops, said Stephen Karanja, chairperson of the doctors’ group.

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