Starting in November, seventh-grade girls are to get government-funded vaccinations against the human papilloma virus (HPV), with about 100,000 students to benefit annually, the Health Promotion Administration (HPA) said.
Cervical cancer has for many years been among the top 10 cancers among women, with an average of 1,500 new cases and more than 600 deaths reported in Taiwan each year, according to Ministry of Health and Welfare statistics.
There are more than 100 types of HPV, at least 13 of which can cause cancer, a 2016 WHO fact sheet on HPV and cervical cancer showed.
Nearly all cases of cervical cancer can be attributed to HPV infection, including HPV types 16 and 18, which cause about 70 percent of cervical cancers and precancerous cervical lesions, the WHO report said.
In an effort to reduce incidents of cervical cancer, the HPA was given a budget of about NT$250 million (US$8.53 million) to fund HPV vaccines for seventh graders, starting in November, it said.
There are three types of HPV vaccines — bivalent, quadrivalent and nine-valent vaccines — that are administered on a two or three-dose schedule, HPA Cancer Prevention and Control Division Director Wu Chien-yuan (吳建遠) said, adding that all three types of vaccines can protect against HPV types 16 and 18, and that studies have suggested that the schedules are equally effective.
The WHO recommends vaccination for girls aged nine to 13, as it is the most cost-effective public health measure against cervical cancer, she said.
The policy is expected to benefit about 100,000 girls per year and save the program about NT$6,000 per vaccine by using the two-dose schedule, she said.
While statistics show many cases of Taiwanese women who were vaccinated after being diagnosed with precancerous cervical lesions, vaccines cannot treat HPV infection or HPV-associated disease, Wu said.
They work best if administered before first sexual activity and prior to HPV exposure, she added.
HPV vaccines have been in development for more than 10 years, preventing against about 90 percent of cervical cancers, the administration said.
While about 80 countries provide government-funded HPV vaccination, projects for administering free HPV vaccines to special areas have been conducted in eight counties and cities in Taiwan, it said.
The government’s effort to fund and promote Pap smears has significantly reduced the number of cervical cancer cases, Taipei Medical University Hospital’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology director Liu Wei-min (劉偉民) said, adding that the HPV vaccination policy would hopefully further reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in Taiwan.
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