By Cecilia Ashioya
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a sexually transmitted infection that has been identified as the main cause of cervical cancer, which is among leading causes of death among women, second only to breast cancer.
HPV is passed from one person to another during sex and most sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, according to the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH).
Other factors that can increase the risk of cervical cancer are intimacy at an early age, multiple sexual partners, sexually transmitted diseases, HIV and cigarette smoking.
Most HPV infections don’t lead to cancer but some types of genital HPV can cause cancer of the lower part of the uterus that connects to the cervix.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva and back of the throat are other types of cancer that have been linked to HPV infection
The infections are often transmitted sexually or through other skin-to-skin contact.
Vaccines can help protect against the strains of HPV that are most likely to cause genital warts or cervical cancer.
Kenya is among 10 African countries that have recently launched the vaccine program that will be given to 10-year-old girls to prevent cervical cancer.
During the launch, President Uhuru Kenyatta termed the vaccine roll-out a major milestone in the fight against non-communicable diseases.
“Access to the HPV vaccine by our girls will lead to the reduction of number of new cervical cancer cases and secure lives of our daughters and sisters,” he said.
“This means that our young women who are critical to the future of our nation will be protected from early deaths.”
The vaccine, which is most effective when administered between the ages of nine and 14, will be given in two doses six months apart, and will be available at 9,000 public, private and faith-based health facilities countrywide.
Despite the vaccine’s benefits, there have been some doubts about the vaccine, many of them based on unconfirmed reports.
More than 10 years have passed since its introduction and the global acceptance of the HPV vaccine still remains low.
Studies have found that the immunization rate in Latin America is lower than expected.
In developed countries such as Canada, the rejection of HPV vaccination is high in both the lowest and the highest economic levels.
Japan suspended the recommendation to immunize against HPV in 2014, four years after its introduction.
The decision was made after reported cases of chronic pain and other symptoms despite the reviews claiming that the reported cases were not related to the vaccine.
According to HPV vaccine manufacturers, the most common adverse reactions to Gardasil include pain, swelling, redness, stinging, bruising, bleeding at the injection site, and headache, fever, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and fainting.
Further, the most frequent reported symptoms of HPV vaccination are chronic pain with numbness, headaches, fatigue, and orthostatic intolerance.
Small series and isolated cases of complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS), postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), and fibromyalgia, have been reported after vaccination against HPV. These conditions are often difficult to diagnose, and show similar clinical characteristics.
Apparently, dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system plays an important role in the pathogenesis— the manner of development of disease — of these syndromes.
Catholic Church stance
In Kenya, the Kenya Catholic Doctors Association (KCDA) is opposed to the use of the vaccine, instead advocating monogamy and abstinence.
KCDA argues that chaste schoolgirls and faithful spouses need not worry about contracting HPV since the virus is sexually transmitted.