Government of Botswana Takes a Bold Step to Reduce the Risk of Cervical Cancer for More Than 68,000 Girls

Posted by On June 22, 2015
By Andrea Kirsten-Coleman We know that Africa’s future success depends, in large part, on its young women. By 2030 the number of adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa will rise to 113 million, a group large enough to have a significant impact on the continent. Girls line up for their HPV vaccinations. Although this scenario will present challenges, with the right investments, especially in women’s health, countries have an unprecedented opportunity to capitalize on the potential of their young women to strengthen economic growth and national development. This is the case with Botswana. In February 2015, Botswana implemented its first-ever national rollout of vaccination against the human papillomavirus (HPV) to girls ages 9-13 years. HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer, which is one of the leading causes of death of women in the country. The national rollout follows a two-year demonstration program started in 2013, made possible with technical support from Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, including in-kind donations of vaccine from Merck and funds for implementation and evaluation provided by the World Bank. During the demonstration program, over 8,000 girls in selected primary schools in Molepolole, Botswana’s largest village, completed the three-dose vaccination regimen. Based on the successful demonstration campaigns, the Government of Botswana decided to scale up and fund a national HPV vaccination program, with its own resources. In February, the HPV vaccine was administered for free in government and private schools, and in health facilities, with the goal of reaching all Batswana school girls between the ages of 9 and 13 in both primary and secondary schools, and all out-of- school girls in the same age category. Out of the 69,852 girls targeted, 68,304, or approximately 98.2 percent, received the first dose. Based on recommendations from the World Health Organization, the Government has adopted a two-dose schedule for the permanent vaccination campaign, and the second dose for the inaugural group of girls is planned for September of this year. At the launch of the national roll-out, Botswana’s Minister of Health and Member of Parliament for Sefhare-Ramokhonami, the Honorable Dorcas Makgato said, “Today our focus is on HPV vaccination in our young girls to prevent cervical cancer.  Vaccinating girls before they are sexually active provides an excellent opportunity to decrease the incidence of cervical cancer over time.” This vaccination program marks one of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s largest successes so far in preventing cervical cancer. Because HPV vaccine reduces by 70- percent the chance that each girl who receives the full number of doses will develop cervical cancer later in life, the Government has taken a major step toward lessening the future burden of the disease in the country. Botswana has increased the likelihood that the vaccinated girls will have a chance to improve the future economic growth, political stability and security of the country. Andrea Kirsten-Coleman is Program Manager, Communications, Development and Partner Outreach, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon