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GSK launches cervical cancer vaccine

NAIROBI, August 6- A second cervical cancer prevention vaccine has been launched in the Kenyan market amid growing concerns of increased cases of the disease.

Cervarix Vaccine, manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), comes just under a month after the introduction of Gardasil by Merck.

Chairman of the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society, Dr Omondi Ogutu, said on Wednesday that over 10 million women in Kenya were at risk of getting cervical cancer annually.

He recommended that women go for regular Pap Smear tests for early detection of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – the commonest cause of cervical cancer.

“Treatment options like surgical procedures and radiotherapy are expensive,” the medic noted.

“We are in the process of finalising a guideline to help people understand how this vaccine should be administered. We hope that, with time, this will become a form of the national immunisation process.” 

The Cervarix vaccine, an injection through the muscles, is administered in three doses – at 0, 1 and 6 months. It is said to be effective for slightly more than six years.

In Britain, where the vaccine is already in use, a public health programme to vaccinate every 12 year-old girl is to be launched in September.

“And we will have another programme in a few years to capture every girl below 18 years,” Professor Peter Stern of the University of Manchester told Capital News.

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“What the vaccine does is that it mimics what the surface of the pathogen (germ) looks likes, and the immunisation is extremely good in inducing antibodies which are parts of the immune system,” he explained.

“And what they do is they recognise structures on the surface of the virus particle and they sort of fit together like a lock and a key. And when this occurs it neutralises the virus so that it can’t infect the cells.”

Stern added that women who are sexually active are at a higher risk of contracting cervical cancer.

“And so they can still get protection from this vaccine throughout their lifetime, but of course there are still some other types of the HPV that are not covered,” he informed.

There are about 100 forms of HPVs with types 16, 18, 45 and 31 said to cause up to 80 percent of the cervical cancer cases.

Despite it being the second most common cancer affecting women worldwide, Kenya is yet to have a national cervical cancer screening programme.

The cancer develops in the cervix – the low, narrow neck of the uterus that opens into the vagina – and the HPV is transmitted during sex or intimate genital skin contact.

In most cases, the immune system does not clear up the HPV infection, thus persistent infection may develop into cervical cancer and when this happens there are normally no symptoms in the early stages.

Infected cells may then slowly develop into precancerous lesions and in some cases cervical cancer, unless they are identified and treated early.

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