Lessons and progress after the debut HPV awareness day

ON March 4 2017, in Cape Town, the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) announced its commitment to raising awareness of Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) through an annual International Human Papillomavirus Awareness day commemoration. This year saw the inauguration of the awareness campaign.


The International HPV Awareness Day campaign aims to raise awareness and understanding of HPV and encourage governments and individuals across the world to take action to improve access to HPV prevention and screening in order to reduce the risks of HPV-related diseases, which include cancers of the cervix, mouth and throat, anal and genital cancers.

As a microbiologist, it was a worthwhile experience to join experts to educate people around the world about HPV, 34 years after Nobel Laureate Harald Zur Hausen first attributed cancer of the cervix to the virus. Today, cancer of the cervix is one of the commonest types of female cancers, and also a leading cause of death among women in Africa.

This underscores the importance of this campaign and the necessity to increase knowledge and education about HPV and HPV-related cancers especially among people of low socio-economic status. Such knowledge and information will in no small measure reduce the number of women who die of cervical cancer annually around the world.

HPV has been described as one of the most common infections of the female genital tract and also one of the most costly. Kevin, of Emory University Atlanta State, outlined these cost which include Pap tests, treatment of genital warts, follow-up of cellular changes and cytological abnormalities, and management of cervical cancer.

HPV can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex. It is the most sexually transmitted disease globally. Presently, there are over 100 types of HPV and over 60 of these cause warts and the other 40 types are divided into two categories of high risk or low risk.

HPV six and 11 are low-risk types, which cause genital warts. HPV 16 and 18 are high risk types which have been connected to cancer.

The majority of HPV infections are harmless, addressed by the body’s immune system and do not develop any symptoms. However, annually about 500 000 new cases are reported and about 250 000 deaths occur due to cervical cancer, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As HPV is very common and easy to transmit — around 80% of us will be infected in our lifetimes — vaccination provides a good means of prevention. Other ways of reducing risk include abstinence, reduction in the number of sexual partners and consistent condom use.

This year’s inaugural International HPV awareness day, marked on March 4, 2018 around the globe, was supported by a partnership of more than 80 organisations worldwide who worked together to share a consistent message through, various channels, social platforms and languages. The Earth’s Microorganisms Organisation (EMO) fronted the campaign in Africa using flash mobs, seminars and lectures to raise awareness and encourage action. The campaign partnership headed by IPVS formed a formidable team that crossed religious, political and professional boundaries to achieve a common goal.

The theme of this year’s HPV Awareness Day made the campaign clear and simple — “HPV Affects Everyone”. Since it affects everyone, all hands must be on deck to enlighten and educate people about this virus and the negative impact, as well as ways to prevent it.

One month after the euphoria that characterised the first ever International HPV Awareness Day, how well have we utilised and amplified the campaign message especially in our local communities?

This campaign was designed among other things to educate people and increase their knowledge about HPV and HPV-related cancers. This information should not be amplified only during the International HPV awareness day, rather it should form part of our habit, and we should see it as a priority to educate people about HPV and how to prevent it.

We must also continue to eliminate negative impressions and assertions that will impede the progression of the HPV preventive tools like HPV vaccines. All hands must also be on deck to address misconceptions about HPV vaccine which all scientific research shows to be safe.

IPVS has set the ball rolling and I regard this effort as a welcome development; we must keep the ball rolling before the next HPV awareness day. Only in this way we can feel the greater impact of this campaign.

IPVS has summoned the courage to initiate this campaign to save women and men that can benefit from the HPV vaccine and or screening for the early detection of cancer and treatment. We must all join our efforts to achieve the original aim. We must ensure we put this information at the doorstep of those who need it most as well as those who make policies that can affect the campaign positively. We should see this campaign as everyone’s business and we must endeavor to make every day an HPV awareness day.
The following will help:

We should continue to increases, knowledge and education about HPV especially among people with low socioeconomic status. John F. Kennedy says “The greater our knowledge increase the greater our ignorance unfolds.

Women of reproductive age must become conscious enough to utilise this information and apply it. They must be available for routine cervical screening exercise. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” .

Government and policy makers, especially in developing nations must be reminded to prioritise the availability of the HPV vaccine and cervical screening opportunities especially for women of reproductive age.

Individuals especially in developing nations must become aware enough to elect politicians who have positives and good plans for their health scheme. Benjamin Franklin says “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”.

Corporate organisations must also be ready to assist the non-governmental organisation involved in HPV awareness during HPV campaigns.

Lucky Omorogiuwa is with the Department of Biological Science (Microbiology Unit) at Benson Idahosa University in Benin, Nigeria. For more information about the first ever International HPV Awareness Day and how you can get involved, log onto www.givelovenothpv.com.

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