The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) will take its human papilloma virus (HPV) campaign to privately-owned primary and secondary schools next week Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Officer Dr Ertenisa Hamilton said on Friday.
So far, 24 privately-owned schools in Region Four (Demerara/Mahaica) have been reached by the MCH to explain its current national drive to inoculate 36,000 nine to 13-year old primary and secondary school girls against HPV, the disease blamed for cervical cancer the second leading killer of Guyanese women.
Telephone calls to some private schools this week were unanswered but the MCH nevertheless plans to send notices on the issue to all private institutions on the East Coast and East Bank of Demerara and Georgetown early next week, Dr Hamilton said.
With guaranteed support from major international institutions such as PAHO/WHO, Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and local private sector and civil society bodies, the government earlier this week relaunched its renewed HPV push in Bartica, Region Seven (Cuyuni/Mazaruni) a major mining area.
According to a release from the MOPH, even though 21,600 persons voluntarily received the vaccine during the inaugural 2014 – 2016 campaign, it eventually ran out of steam mainly due to lack of public education, negative local press and counter-attacks from overseas-based interest groups through their local chapters.
The release further states that there were no adverse effects from the administration of the HPV vaccine, Gardasil, in Guyana, despite publicly-voiced fears that patients will suffer from injection-site pain, sore throat, swelling, itching, fever, headaches, nausea, tiredness, joint or muscle pain vomiting, insomnia (lack of seep) runny or stuffy nose or tooth pain, fallouts from the immunising agent. Many of these are side effects from other vaccines publicly embraced.
A historical review of Guyana’s vaccination efforts reveals that in the 1980s, the percentage coverage for BCG used to be at 68 percent. This figure climbed to 98 per cent by 2016. In 1995, polio coverage was at 87 percent and by last year it is almost totally eradicated. Guyana moved its measles coverage from 67 per cent in 1995 to 100 last year.
Globally, there are some 530,000 new cases of cervical cancer detected annually which kills approximately 266,000 women or 50.2 per cent.
In the Caribbean, Guyana ranks highest with an incidence rate of 46.9 per cent and a mortality rate of 21.0 per 100,000 persons. Cervical cancer kills an estimated 100 Guyanese women every year, making it the leading cause of can mortality among Guyanese women.
Some 33 per cent of these deaths are due to the 5 leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity and using tobacco and alcohol
“Vaccination is the number one public health success story” in Guyana notwithstanding the prevailing sentiment among some Guyanese that diseases don’t exist, Dr Hamilton said. She said however, that the supposed skepticism disappears when the children of skeptics have to be enrolled in the education system.
Guyana’s 40-year old Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) has been modified over time and has become more robust and efficient through the regular monitoring and evaluation by specialists. As a consequence, it has been very difficult over the decades for diseases to migrate across borders into Guyana from its South American neighbours because of the strength of the country’s immunisation programme, Dr Hamilton pointed out.
Success must also be attributed to the political will exhibited by successive Guyanese governments to guarantee the public is protected from all types of diseases.
Currently, the Guyana EPI strategy provides coverage for 16 antigens: Polio virus, Pneumococcal bacteria, Yellow Fever, Measles, Mumps, Rubella, Hepatitis B, Haemophilus Influenza, Tetanus, Pertussis, Diphtheria, Varicella, Meningococcal bacteria, HPV, Rota virus, Tuberculosis.
It must be noted that Guyana was among the first set of countries in the region of the Americas that eradicated Measles and Rubella. This was certified in 2016.
According to the MOPH, In the next six months under the EPI several projects will be launched including the introduction of the birth dose of Hepatitis B vaccine and the design and piloting of the electronic vaccine records.
The renewed HPV campaign in Guyana has reminded stakeholders that vaccines remain powerful medical interventions that unleash “powerful biological, social, and cultural reactions”.