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Vaccinating Girls to Prevent Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines can prevent approximately 70% of cervical cancer cases and provide an opportunity to significantly reduce the number of deaths attributed to the disease. Because of the lack of effective screening programs to identify pre-cancerous lesions when they can easily be treated, women who live in in low- and middle-income countries are more likely to develop cervical cancer than women who live in wealthier countries. They are also less likely to receive a diagnosis until the disease has reached an advanced, untreatable stage. As a result, in Latin America and the Caribbean, cervical cancer deaths are seven times higher than in neighboring North America.
In Honduras, our local partner, Ashonplafa, partnered with the Ministry of Health to secure a donation of the HPV vaccine and implement a school-based vaccination program for girls in the Comayagua and La Paz regions of the country.
To ensure success, Ashonplafa invested in strategic alliances with local authorities, developed materials to educate girls and the general public, and discussed the importance of HPV vaccination with parents and teachers. Ashonplafa also supported the development and implementation of a training program for medical teams providing the vaccination. This type of community mobilization and educational approach is vital to the success of a vaccination program as three doses are required over a six-month period for the vaccine to be effective.
Ashonplafa conducted a school census to obtain an accurate number of 10- and 11-year-old girls eligible to be vaccinated in each school. This meant that the exact numbers of doses needed could be taken to the schools. Working with the government at all levels was crucial in contributing to success. The vaccination program benefited from the Ministry of Health's existing distribution networks and trained personnel who could administer the vaccine.
By the end of this vaccination program, 8,338 girls in Honduras had received all three doses—and the program accomplished more than 95% of its goal. This collaboration has given the Ministry of Health a model for HPV vaccination that not only works, but can also be used to scale up the program nationally. Across the global IPPF network, we are exploring ways the model could be replicated in other Latin American and Caribbean countries, and implemented by IPPF Member Associations in Africa and Asia.