Free HPV vaccine for Dubai schoolgirls to start in March
Sharjah - The second dose of the vaccine will be given to girls in Dubai and Northern Emirates in October.
Published: Thu 31 Jan 2019, 9:26 PM
Last updated: Thu 31 Jan 2019, 11:30 PM
Schoolgirls aged between 13 and 14 years will get the first dose of HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine starting March, said senior health officials on Thursday.
The second dose of the vaccine, that was included in the National Immunisation Programme in 2018, will be given to girls in Dubai and Northern Emirates in October, said Dr Laila Hussen Al Jasmi, head of immunisation section at the Ministry of Health and Prevention (Mohap). "Starting from the next academic year, the vaccine will become a routine procedure," she said.
At a forum organised by the Friends of Cancer Patients (FoCP) titled 'Turning the Tide on HPV and Cervical Cancer', officials said that school officials were being trained before the start of the vaccination procedures. The training will end by February 15, said Dr Laila.
"In the next phase, we will start the awareness drive and start sending out consent forms," she said. The decision to give free vaccine to schoolgirls is part of a ministerial decree recently signed by the Minister of Health and Prevention. The HPV vaccine is already compulsory for schoolgirls in Abu Dhabi under the emirate's vaccination programme.
In 2013, Abu Dhabi extended the free immunisation scheme to include more Emirati women between the ages of 18 and 26.
Dr Badreya Al Harmi, director of public health protection department at the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) said all Dubai schoolgirls will also be immunised under this plan.
In the Mena region, the UAE and Libya are the only two countries that have successfully introduced the HPV vaccine. While Saudi Arabia and Morocco are trying to follow the suit, the remaining countries have no plans to introduce the HPV vaccine.
Sawsan Jafar, chairperson of the FoCP Board of Directors, said: "The UAE's journey to reduce HPV-related diseases started in 2008, when Abu Dhabi rolled out the HPV vaccine in schools. This was followed by another major development last year with Mohap's country-wide rollout of the HPV vaccine."
Referring to recent World Health Organisation (WHO) statistics, which indicate that 1.2 million cases of cancer in the world are linked to HPV and leads to an estimated 8,000 deaths annually in the region, Dr Hussein Abdel Rahman Al Rand, assistant under-secretary at the ministry, remarked: "Scientific studies have shown that the most successful methods of cervical cancer prevention are associated with the provision of advanced vaccines and with the overall upgradation of healthcare systems."
Dr Shible Sahbani, Regional Advisor on Reproductive Health, UNFPA, said that organised national cervical screening programmes are lacking in most Arab countries.
"Cervical cancer cases in the region remain largely unreported, even today. But according to available statistics, approximately 7,601 women in the region succumb to the disease annually," he said.
According to data, the UAE had 56 deaths due to cervical cancer and 104 new cases in 2018.
Dr Lamia Ahmed Safi El Dein, senior officer, cancer prevention and control Section, public health and research department, Department of Health - Abu Dhabi, said:
"Around the time the national HPV vaccine implementation was initiated by the Abu Dhabi Department Of Health, almost all cervical cancer cases were being diagnosed at a stage when the women had reached a point of no return.
"We were losing precious lives to a vaccine-preventable disease. This cancer was the second most prevalent type after breast cancer when we started out in 2008. Today it is number five one the list. This is a sign of success of the HPV vaccine," she said.
"We thought the community will be the biggest obstacle, but in reality, we found that healthcare professionals, school staff and media posed a bigger challenge.
Misinformation by healthcare professionals who community members bank upon said the vaccine was required only in European countries due to their lifestyles, and wasn't safe," said Dr Shada Al Ghazali, section head, cancer prevention and control, non-communicable disease department, public health division, Department of Health - Abu Dhabi.