What is HPV?  Human papilloma virus (HPV) is a viral infection that’s passed between people through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 varieties of HPV, more than 40 of which are passed through sexual contact and can affect your genitals, mouth, or throat.

In the past few months, there has been a lot of talk about the HPV vaccine with it’s widely publicised launch in Mombasa.  By launching the vaccine, Kenya joined 10 other countries that are already offering the vaccine to people.  In 2018, estimates indicated that globally, 569,847 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 311,365 (55%) died from the disease. In Kenya, cervical cancer is the second leading cause of cancers in women of all ages and the number one most common cancer among women aged 15 – 44 years. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in women in Kenya. Every day, 9 women at the prime of their age die of cervical cancer.

Did you know that 80% of the population get the HPV infection? Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is a group of viruses that affect both men and women.

HPV viruses spread through contact with infected genital skin, mucous membranes or bodily fluids. One may not show any signs or symptoms when infected. 70-90% of the population are able to clear the infection naturally within 1 to 2 years but over 10% may end up with persistent infection. Among over 100 types of HPV, 14 types have been found to be high risk, cancer-causing HPV types. Infection with other HPV types also causes a proportion of cancers of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, oropharynx, and related organs. Non-cancer-causing HPV types (especially types 6 and 11) can cause genital warts and respiratory papillomatosis.

With persistent infection, ladies may get cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is caused by sexually acquired infection with certain types of HPV. Two types of HPV (16 and 18) cause over 70% of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions.  It may take 5 to 20 years for one to get cervical cancer following persistent infection.

Cervical cancer is preventable. The Kenyan Ministry of Health has rolled out HPV vaccination of 10year old girls in 2 doses 6 months apart. The vaccine is safe and effective for cervical cancer prevention and is approved by the World Health Organization (WHO). To date, close to 115 countries globally have introduced HPV vaccine for girls into their routine immunization schedules.

The Kenyan cancer screening guidelines also recommend screening of women aged 25 to 49 years for cervical cancer. Testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) is recommended as the primary screening method. This should be done regularly as advised by your healthcare provider through;

  1. Visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) alone, or combined with visual inspection with Lugol’s iodine (VILI)
  2. Pap Smear
  3. HPV DNA testing

The Human Papilloma Virus is one of the main causes of cervical cancer, and according to the World health Organisation, East Africa has the highest cases of cervical cancer in the world.  As parts of efforts to curb the continued rise of the pandemic, the vaccine is being administered free to all 10 year old girls and it is given in two doses six months apart.

Consult your healthcare provider on cervical cancer prevention and screening.

Author: Dr. Esther Muinga