What The US Can Learn from Rwanda on Dealing with Cervical Cancer

It’s hard to believe that there is something a small nation like Rwanda can teach the US (a first world country).  But surprisingly there is- Rwanda made history by becoming the first African nation to launch a countrywide cervical cancer prevention program.

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In 2010 that country entered an agreement with Merck pharmaceuticals to vaccinate Rwanda girls against Human Papilloma Virus(HPV).  In 2013, the country started immunizing girls aged 11 to 12 against HPV, the primary cause of cervical cancer.  

So, it’s no surprise that today they have a 93%  vaccination rate among adolescent girls. The approach that Rwanda took to reduce the rate of cervical cancer in the country proves that we can eliminate cancer across the world if we achieve high vaccination coverage.

So how did a country that was once ranked the poorest in the word eliminate cervical cancer, when high-income like the US and France couldn’t achieve high vaccine coverage?

The truth is it wasn’t easy! There were lots of cultural barriers against the vaccine program, and talking about sex was taboo in the country.  Also, there were rumors that the vaccine could make Rwanda women infertile, so some parents were hesitant to allow their daughters to be part of the program.

However, Rwanda enlisted the help of an army of educators- teachers, community health workers, church leaders and nurses to educate its people on the importance of the vaccination. Now even the US cannot compete with Rwanda in HPV vaccination coverage.

Over 8 million American teens are currently suffering from some kind of HPV virus. The country reports over 4,000 women die of cervical cancer and over 13,000 are diagnosed with it every year.  But still, its only 49% of the adolescent teen between the age of 13 to 17 who have received HPV vaccines.

The low rates of immunization against HPV in the US are contributed by the myth that the vaccine increases promiscuity and its dangerous.  These kinds of bogus claims hinder the efforts of the Government and Big Pharmaceuticals in combating cervical cancer prevalence in the County.

Luckily, there is still hope. In May 2019,  the VACCINES Act was introduced to the House. If the bill passes, it will allow funding for the CDC to carry out research on the vaccine averseness and increase public awareness on the benefits of the HPV immunization.

States are also taking action- Virginia, District of Columbia, and Rhode Island require students to get vaccinated for HPV before they join secondary school. Other states have passed laws to permit minors to undergo HPV vaccination even when the parent is against it.

The cost of Cervical cancer is high, and it involves a painful surgery, therefore prevention is the best solution. Australia and Scotland have already made plans to follow in the footsteps of Rwanda. 

It’s therefore prime time for the US to participate by increasing immunization rates through HPV vaccination for both boys and girls and the house passing the VACCINES Act.

References

http://www.moh.gov.rw/index.php

https://thehill.com/opinion/healthcare/456933-the-us-can-learn-from-rwanda-on-stamping-out-cervical-cancer

https://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/91/9/12-116087/en/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662515/

https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/27662069/4877733.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3790215/

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