What India Needs for Cervical Cancer Elimination – Gender-neutral HPV Vaccination, Health News, ET HealthWorld

by Mridu Gupta

Although there may be a number of pressing public health issues that India needs to address, there is no doubt that cervical cancer ranks among the top three. Not only is the elimination of cervical cancer urgent, but it also makes perfect sense to attack it aggressively, as it is an easily preventable cancer. Imagine – almost entirely preventable cancer and yet cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among women in India. 1 Indian woman dies of cervical cancer every 8 minutes. About 453 million (45.3 crore) Indian women aged 15 and above are at risk of developing cervical cancer. It has been predicted that without any intervention, a total of 57,74,738 women in India will die from cervical cancer by 2070.

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are due to infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a group of over 200 viruses and the leading cause of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum and oropharynx.

About 85% of women and 91% of men with a sexual partner will become infected with HPV during their lifetime.

Men are carriers of HPV. Most men who get HPV never have symptoms. The infection usually goes away on its own. But, if HPV doesn’t go away, it can cause genital warts or certain types of cancer like penile cancer, oral cancer, or anal cancer. About 50% of male carriers are affected.

HPV vaccination for the prevention of cervical cancer and HPV infections

At CAPED, we undertake advocacy initiatives to promote gender-neutral HPV vaccination across the country and raise awareness among the masses for wide dissemination of vaccination. We educate low-income communities about HPV and cervical cancer and facilitate HPV screening to help detect cervical cancer at an early stage. We have also sensitized the urban communities in particular on the availability of the gender-neutral vaccine to adopt. Our vision is to create a Cervical Cancer Mukt Bharat

There has been a sudden flurry of talk around the HPV vaccine lately. While we at CAPED have been advocating for the vaccine in the IPU and are extremely happy to see that it could finally be introduced, a vaccine for girls up to the age of 14 is just the start. . It’s not the complete solution.

There are several interventions that we would like to suggest with the IPU to ensure prevention of cervical cancer, but the most important would be to start with the gender-neutral vaccine.

The HPV vaccine reduces the risk of cervical cancer by up to 88%. The HPV vaccine can also prevent cancer of the vagina and vulva in women and genital warts, cancers of the anus, and cancers of the mouth, throat, head and neck in women and men.

In the United States, 10 years after the introduction of the HPV vaccine, the incidence of HPV infections decreased by 86% in girls aged 14-19 and by 71% in women in their early twenties . In the UK, an HPV vaccination program has reduced cervical cancer cases by nearly 90% among women in their twenties. An 11-year study in Finland found no cases of HPV-related cancer among vaccinated women in the country. In Australia, there has been a 90% reduction in HPV types through their national HPV vaccination program.

The Need for HPV Vaccines Regardless of Gender

According to studies, almost 45% of men acquire an HPV infection at one time or another, and up to 25% of men carry at least one high-risk HPV subtype. Therefore, vaccinating both men and women against HPV (known as “universal” or “gender-neutral” vaccination) offers much higher levels of protection for everyone.

Studies suggest that if countries can achieve 80% HPV vaccination coverage in both men and women, HPV-associated cancers could be completely eliminated.

According to the WHO, more than 100 countries worldwide have national HPV vaccination programs in place. Various global studies suggest that the HPV vaccine works extremely well in curbing the spread of HPV infections

Several countries around the world have adopted universal HPV vaccination programs. 42 countries worldwide currently vaccinate boys and girls against HPV, including Argentina, Australia, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Guyana, New Zealand, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States. 26 European countries currently include or have committed to include boys and men in their national HPV vaccination programs. Closer to home, Bhutan launched HPV vaccination for adolescents through a gender-neutral vaccination program from September 2020.

Where is India
HPV vaccination has been available in India since 2011. It has yet to make it into the government’s vaccination program but now in 2022/2023 it may well do so. Available since 2011 and yet marketing statistics show that less than 1% of girls must have been vaccinated in the last 11 years. This means that the uptake of HPV vaccination is abysmal in India. A research survey conducted by CAPED – Cancer Awareness, Prevention and Early Detection – Trust in December 2020 found that 52% of women are unaware of HPV vaccination. In fact even of the 48% who said they knew about cervical cancer, 23% thought it was neck cancer!

Therefore, there is a dire need to educate the masses about cervical cancer and the importance of getting boys and girls vaccinated against HPV to prevent cervical cancer and other HPV-related STIs. In parallel, the introduction of HPV vaccination in the Universal Immunization Program (UIP) is a crucial step to be able to achieve high coverage of HPV vaccination and eliminate HPV infections and cervical cancer. uterus in India.

In 2021, the first gender-neutral vaccination in India was launched. However, the masses are unaware of the importance of getting boys/men and girls/women vaccinated against HPV.

At a time when there are discussions around HPV at the Center and media levels, it is imperative that we bring men into the conversation. Although prevention can be affected by vaccinating girls and screening women, the elimination of HPV-related infections and cancers cannot be achieved without men being part of the solution. And currently, the only solution for men is the gender-neutral vaccine. Let’s raise awareness and increase the use of the vaccine to protect our children and future generations.

Mridu Gupta, CEO – CAPED India

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