The benefits of the HPV vaccine

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Ballooning costs associated from both the increase in cancer patients and the new technologies and methods of treatment being used, has prompted the South African healthcare industry to champion proactive protection against preventable cancers and to find ways to reduce the cost of the treatment thereof. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is a valuable but underutilised tool in this regard and the industry needs to work to overcome the stigma attached to the vaccine.

This is according to Graham Anderson, Principal Officer at Profmed, the medical scheme catering exclusively to graduate professionals, who says the incidence of HPV-related cancers have ballooned both globally and locally and this is having a serious effect on the price of healthcare. Anderson says although there are vaccines available to prevent the contraction of the HPV virus, many people have misconceptions that the treatment is too expensive and choose not to protect themselves.

The HPV vaccine is covered

“Most medical aids do cover the costs associated with the HPV vaccine and encourage members to get vaccinated against HPV as part of their preventative healthcare initiative to reduce the onset of chronic conditions and promote healthier lifestyles,” says Anderson.

“There are over 40 different types of HPV infections and though not all cause cancer, some can cause genital warts or warts in the throat and once infected the virus is incurable. But if people are vaccinated and guarded against contraction they can prevent themselves from ever getting infected. While there is a cost attached, it is significantly lower than the cost of long-term treatment for cancer or other HPV –related problems,” he says.

According to Anderson, the World Health Organisation predicts that while currently eight women a day die from cervical cancer, this will rise to a total of 12 per day by 2025. “These are tragic statistics for what could be a preventable disease. It is crucial that we raise awareness of this issue so that people can take the necessary precautions and protect themselves from contracting the virus,” he says.

“There is no certain way to tell who will develop health problems from HPV and who will not. In most cases HPV goes away by itself before it causes any health problems, and most people who become infected with HPV do not even know they have it. The problem here is that they are still able to transmit the disease to anyone who has not already been protected,” he says.

Anderson says many people are not aware that HPV- related cancers in the throat accounts for about 70% of cancers in this area.

“This means that anyone who becomes infected with the virus has a very real chance of developing another, potentially more devastating form of cancer,” he says.

Early treatment makes all the difference

Because cervical cancer usually does not cause symptoms until it is quite advanced, Anderson says people should get regular screening to detect early signs of the virus so that it can be treated early, before it turns into cancer.

“There are two HPV vaccines available — Gardasil and Cervarix. They offer protection from several of the most dangerous types of HPV. Gardasil is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 26. Cervarix is approved for girls and women ages 9 to 25,” says Anderson.

“It has been recommended that girls under the age of 26 get vaccinated against the virus. We have been encouraging parents to get their adolescent daughters vaccinated before they become sexually active but believe that this drive should also be extended to boys,” explains Anderson.

Anderson says in order for the vaccines to work effectively, patients’ needs to go for three shots of the vaccine. “The vaccine costs in the region of R700 which is a small price to pay in comparison to the potentially devastating consequences of a cancer diagnosis. Furthermore, most medical schemes would pay for the costs of the vaccines as a means to control and reduce the spread of HPV resulting in very positive effects on reducing the costs of treatment associated with HPV infections for medical schemes,” says Anderson.