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Statement from the Medical Association of Jamaica (Oct 2017) on the HPV Vaccine

Dr. Clive Lai

Cervical cancer is the 7th commonest cancer in the world and the 4th commonest in Jamaica.  Every year 528,000 (392 in Jamaica) new cases are diagnosed and there are approximately 270,000 deaths (185 in Jamaica). By 2050, without any intervention, cases diagnosed with cervical cancer will increase to one million per year with approximately 90% of the deaths being in developing countries. In Jamaica, cervical cancer is the second commonest cancer among our female population after breast cancer, and accounts for 63% of cancers of the female reproductive tract.  The incidence is about 25/100,000 and accounts for 15% of all female cancer deaths.

The central cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), which is found in 90% of all cases.  The HPV is the most common Sexually Transmitted Disease (6 M new cases each year) and most men and women who have been or are sexually active have been exposed to HPV.  More than 75% of sexually active women tested, have been exposed to HPV by age 18-22 and 15% show evidence of current infection

The human papillomavirus (HPV) infects the cells and transforms normal cells on the cervix to cancer. It is a slow process which can take a few years (10-15) to develop. Only women with persistent HPV (sub-types 16 & 18) are at risk for cervical cancer.

Research, studies and trials have been done over the years, resulting in the formulation of a safe vaccine, which has yielded good results in other countries.  The vaccine is not new to Jamaica, as it is currently being used in some institutions and in private practice.

The Medical Association of Jamaica therefore supports the Ministry of Health in its drive to protect the country’s women from cervical cancer by making the bivalent HPV vaccine (for 16 & 18)  available to the public sector.  Jamaica has been a leader in the elimination of vaccine preventable diseases such as polio, measles and congenital rubella syndrome. With regards to cervical cancer, a vaccine preventable disease, the bivalent HPV vaccine, if administered to girls ages 9 to 14 years, will drastically reduce the risk of cervical cancer. However, this does not mean that as they get older that they should stop doing their regular screening tests like pap smears.  The HPV vaccine is safe and the MAJ is encouraging parents to get their daughters vaccinated, as it will have a significant public health impact by decreasing the incidence of cervical cancer.

The MAJ fully endorses the implementation of this program and will continue to work with the Ministry of Health in ensuring its success. However, every effort must be made to continue to educate and inform the public so that they can make an informed decision about the vaccine.


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