Voice of America (07.24.2013)
The World Health Organization ranks Zambia as having the third highest mortality rate from cervical cancer and the highest rate in Africa. To counteract the cervical cancer rates in Zambia, one of the highest in the world at 90 per 100,000 women, the Zambian government is vaccinating girls ages 9–11 against human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer.
The program began in May at certain primary schools throughout the country, including Kalingalinga Primary School in the capital Lusaka, which vaccinated 100 girls. Euphrasia Mweshi Mutale, a Kalingalinga teacher, helped educate the community about the program. Mutale, parents, and other teachers attended sensitization meetings on the benefits of the vaccine before reaching out to the public. According to Mutale, almost all the girls received the vaccine. She believed that a great part of the success of the program was due to the absence of reported side effects.
Dr. Mulindi Mwanahamuntu, co-director of Zambia’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Program, said that the health authorities and cooperating partners planned to vaccinate 25,000 girls in the program’s first phase; so far, they have met 96 percent of this target. Mwanahamuntu noted they needed to overcome some resistance, such as myths, opinions of religious and cultural groups, and those who see the vaccine as giving permission for children to have sex. Zambian and international health officials are reaching out to the communities to fight such misinformation. One such official is United Nations physician and cancer activist Dr. Pelum-Hazely who plans to educate callers about the benefits and adverse effects of the vaccine on her regular local radio program.