International HPV Awareness Day 4 March

International HPV Awareness Day 4 March

International HPV Awareness Day on 4 March is a day to recognise the public health issue posed by human papillomavirus (HPV).

HPV are a common group of viruses that are sexually transmitted. High-risk HPVs are the underlying cause of cervical cancer, vaginal and vulvar cancers, head and neck cancers as well as cancers of the penis and anus.

In South Africa, cervical cancer ranks as the most common cancer among women between 15 and 44 years of age. Current estimates indicate that every year 10 702 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 5 870 die from the disease.

Many of those deaths could be prevented through access to vaccines and cervical screening programs.

Vaccination is offered to grade 5 girls only in all South African public (government) schools and special schools, 9-12 years of age. Screening by pap smears is important to detect the virus and cell changes that are precursors to cancer, and if caught in the early stages cervical cancer is highly treatable. South African women lack this knowledge of disease detection and prevention, and this leads to a high prevalence and late diagnosis of cervical cancer.

New ways of targeting these populations are needed and an innovative way to do this would be to link school-based HPV vaccination platforms with interventions to improve cervical cancer education and screening to adult female relatives.

Stellenbosch University’s Prof. Hennie Botha (Head: Clinical Department; Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology) collaborated on this national study that successfully combined cervical cancer screening for mothers with schoolgirl HPV vaccination implementation in South Africa.

The findings published in the International Journal of Gynecological Cancer showed that:

  • A vaccine acceptance rate of ~60% was reached in an opt-in program requiring parental signed informed consent.
  • The use of oral presentations almost doubled the number of mothers with knowledge about cervical cancer.
  • Cervical self-screening was accepted by 47% of previously unscreened mothers of vaccine recipients.

This study opens avenues towards linking HPV vaccination campaigns with health education and screening in one program, to effectively reach unscreened mothers.

Reference:

Dreyer G, Botha MH, Snyman LC, et al. Combining cervical cancer screening for mothers with schoolgirl vaccination during human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine implementation in South Africa: results from the VACCS1 and VACCS2 trials. Int J Gynecol Cancer 2022; 0:1–7. DOI: 10.1136/ijgc-2021-003079