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Vaccine program seeks to fight cancer

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A doctor performs a cervical examination on a patient last year at Phnom Penh’s Sihanouk Hospital of HOPE. Athena Zelandonii

Vaccine program seeks to fight cancer

More than 13,000 9-year-old girls in Cambodia will receive an HPV vaccine over the next two years as part of a new program seeking to reduce the country’s dismal cervical cancer rates.

The Ministry of Health on Friday launched a demonstration project to vaccinate a total of nearly 13,400 schoolgirls – some 7,900 in Siem Reap and 5,500 in Svay Rieng – against HPV, said Ork Vichit, manager for the National Immunisation Program.

The HPV virus is a contributing factor that can lead to cervical cancer among women later in life. Cervical cancer is not only the most common kind of cancer among Cambodian women, but the most prevalent in the Kingdom, with a rate that last year stood at 20.5 for every 100,000 women – the highest in the region.

The vaccine “can contribute to the reduction of cervical cancer”, Vichit said yesterday, adding that officials plan to introduce the vaccine into the national program in 2018, depending on a funding proposal.

The vaccination non-profit GAVI is providing about $250,000 for operation costs for the first year of the pilot project, in addition to in-kind contributions of vaccines, Vichit said. The funding will decrease by about half during the second year.

Rob Kelly, a spokesman for GAVI, didn’t respond to a request for comment by press time.

Dr Eav Sokha, head of the onco-hematology department at Calmette hospital, said he was glad to hear news of the project.

“Many scientific studies have shown that if we start to vaccinate against HPV, in 15 to 20 years, we will reduce the incidence of cervical cancer,” he said, adding that cervical cancer usually emerges in women between 40 and 45 years of age.

The vaccine will protect the girls from cervical cancer in the future, he said, and mortality rates would also decrease as a result.

Cambodia sees about 795 cervical cancer deaths every year.

However, Dr Thay Sovannara, who manages a clinic at Sihanouk Hospital Center for HOPE, which provides free cervical cancer screening, said more resources are also needed to help detect cancer at an early stage in women.

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