Panama fights cervical cancer
PANAMA. Panama is the first country in the world to make the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) mandatory, providing it at no c...
PANAMA. Panama is the first country in the world to make the vaccine against human papillomavirus (HPV) mandatory, providing it at no cost to all girls when they turn ten years old, and spending 5 million dollars annually on the program. The efforts should not come as a surprise after the Minister of Health, DRRosario Turner’s, declaration that cervical cancer is the second leading cause of death among women in the country.
However, a recent PRI’s “The World” article by Karen Weise, says that Panama’s vaccination campaign is raising concerns among some public health experts over how little information the government is disclosing about such programs.
The vaccine, which requires a three-dose regimen, protects against certain sexually transmitted forms of HPV that cause many cervical cancers. "The World" reports that in Panama parents have broadly welcomed the vaccination program, unlike in the US, where public debate erupted when parents protested that giving the vaccine sent a message that it's okay for their daughters to be sexually active.
In Panama, there has been little controversy on the mandatory vaccine up until now, yet some believe the lack of controversy raises a new set of concerns.
According to Weise’s article, Jose Cedeno of Planned Parenthood Panama said that the reason there has been no objection among parents of young girls is that government officials have not told parents that the vaccine protects against a sexually transmitted virus.
Cedeno said that because there is no national sex education program in Panama, the government is missing out on an opportunity to educate the public. He noted that the vaccine does not protect against all cancer-causing strains of HPV, adding that girls need to learn how to protect themselves.
However, some members of the public health community support Panama's approach. Newton Osbourne, a prominent gynecologist in Panama, said, "I think it's a good thing because if they tie it to sexual activity, it's going to bring up all kinds of controversy that I don't think is going to be all that relevant to the main issue -- we want to prevent women from getting cancer."
According to “The World”, Turner acknowledged that the health department has downplayed the relationship between HPV and sexual activity. She said, "I saw the outcry over the HPV vaccine abroad and tried to avoid it by focusing only on cancer."
The controversy boils down to how to prevent a high incidence of cervical cancer in a country where sexual education is taboo.
When the government attempted to introduce a bill that would include a comprehensive sex education in schools, public outcry finally crushed the effort.