Government is to provide a free vaccine which prevents the infection "closely linked" with cervical, oral and anal cancers in men and women to young girls.
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is to be made available to young ("prepubescent") girls from November, Health Minister Fuad Khan announced at yesterday's post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair.
HPV, the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, is passed on through genital contact—during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Apart from cervical, oral and anal cancers, the virus can cause genital warts.
Khan said the vaccine, like all other vaccines, could ward off the offending parts of the organism and prevent it from causing damage. "The development of this vaccine carries the cancer treatment to a different realm (moving from early detection) to prevention," the minister stated.
He said though the vaccine has been tried on boys, Government was confining it to girls "who have not been sexually active".
Asked what would be the mindset of Trinbagonian parents to a vaccine which recognises the potential of their child to be sexually active before the age of maturity, he said he recognised that this could be a controversial issue, but the ministry would educate and would not be forcing anyone to be vaccinated. He said people can get information on the Internet as well to see that the benefits outweighed the setbacks.
He said a campaign would be waged by the Ministry of Health to inform parents of the pros and cons of the vaccine. Stressing the immunisation programme would be entirely voluntary, Khan said: "We would be looking for informed consent, not only by the parent but by the recipient of the vaccine."
The Ministry of Health is in the process of obtaining 66,000 doses of the vaccine. He said Government responded to the request of gynaecologists (who see cervical cancer in its worst form) and some members of the public to bring the vaccine.
"We do hope that the population would buy into the vaccine," Khan said, who later told the Express he had given the vaccine to his own daughter.
He said the vaccine was currently available privately but was very expensive. It cost about $185 per vial (plus the cost of paying a doctor to inject the patient), and it must be given three times over a three-month period (which would involve three vials).
The minister said hopefully, in the next ten years, there would be a significant reduction in cancer of the cervix, which is very debilitating when it is not caught early. Its complications include kidney failure and damage to the uterus and vagina, he said.
He said the vaccine being imported—the Gardasil vaccine— would be effective on the three strains of HPV which are most prevalent in Trinidad and Tobago. Working through the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Government will obtain the vaccine at a cost of US$14.16 per vial. Some $6 million is budgeted for this expenditure in 2012.
On problems with cataract surgery, Khan said Government had asked the public to register for the programme, adding he was aware that some appointments for surgery were being given for as far as 2015.
He said the Opthalmological Society and private practitioners would have to be brought in and an agreed price arrived at, "so that public patients can go to these practitioners and receive their surgery with a voucher from the Ministry of Health".