How Rwanda could be the first country to wipe out cervical cancer

7 May, 2019

Dear HIFA and CHIFA colleagues,

Below are extracts from a new article in Wellcome's Mosaic news. Full text here: https://mosaicscience.com/about-mosaic/

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How Rwanda could be the first country to wipe out cervical cancer

07 MAY 2019

The East African country’s campaign to end cervical cancer through the HPV vaccine has had to overcome cultural taboos and rumours about infertility – but it’s saving lives.

Three years before, Rwanda had decided to make preventing cervical cancer a health priority. The government agreed a partnership with pharmaceutical company Merck to offer Rwandan girls the opportunity to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer...

It was an ambitious goal. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in Rwandan women, and there were considerable cultural barriers to the vaccination programme – HPV is a sexually transmitted infection and talking about sex is taboo in Rwanda. Added to this, rumours that the vaccine could cause infertility made some parents reluctant to allow their daughters to be vaccinated...

Rwanda has a network of 45,000 community health workers, volunteers who are present in every village. Bugesera is a district in the Eastern Province, not far from the border with Burundi. Billboards line roads through the district, advertising soft drinks alongside public health messages. One says: “Talk to your children about sex, it may save their lives.”...

“Parents had heard that the vaccine made girls infertile. We struggled to explain to them it wasn’t true – that it was better to vaccinate their daughters against the cancer because if they got it they would become infertile,” he says...

The current health minister, Diane Gashumba, agrees that trust in the government has been critical in supporting the vaccine’s uptake, but admits that the rumours surrounding it were difficult to quash.

“The rumours were not anticipated. But, of course, as the HPV vaccine was a new vaccine for a new target group there were many questions.” She adds that church and village leaders, community health workers and radio programmes played an integral role in dispelling myths about the vaccine...

Rwanda has proved to the world that it can achieve excellent HPV vaccination coverage. The Ministry of Health reports that 93 per cent of girls now receive the vaccine.

Almost all Rwandan girls attend school, and the systematic inclusion of local and religious leaders, community health workers and teachers in the vaccine delivery strategy has proved highly effective in spreading the message about the benefits of the vaccine and combating myths...

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Best wishes, Neil

Coordinator, HIFA Project on Information for Citizens, Parents and Children:

http://www.hifa.org/projects/citizens-parents-and-children

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HIFA profile: Neil Pakenham-Walsh is coordinator of the HIFA global health campaign (Healthcare Information For All - www.hifa.org ), a global community with more than 19,000 members in 177 countries, interacting on six global forums in four languages. Twitter: @hifa_org FB: facebook.com/HIFAdotORG neil@hifa.org

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