Gangtok: Sikkim is all set to start the second phase of its Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination programme from April 23 to May 4 in which girls from the first phase and others aged nine years and above will be covered.

Sikkim is the first state in the country to introduce the HPV vaccination programme to fight cervical cancer among women. During the first phase in July last year, around 24,000 girls between 9 and 14 years were vaccinated.

Announcing this, a day-long media sensitisation workshop was held at a local hotel in capital Gangtok recently. The workshop was conducted by the state health care, human services and family welfare department and sponsored by the UNICEF.

The vaccination is being delivered free of cost, which otherwise would cost Rs 3,000, if vaccinated privately. However, vaccination alone does not suffice, regular screening and follow-up is a must once the girl child crosses the age of 25 years.

Dr Pempa T Bhutia, director general of the state health department, said, “Immunisation is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect children’s lives and their future. Through full immunisation coverage, we can ensure that the benefits of life-saving vaccines reach every child.” He thanked the media personnel for their positive support during the first round and also requested them to extend their valuable support for disseminating the correct information among the masses regarding HPV vaccine in the upcoming second round and so on. The vaccine will be provided free of cost to all eligible beneficiaries across the state (in all schools and government health facilities).

Dr Maulik Shah, health officer, UNICEF (NE states), said: “HPV is the largest public health programme of the country. The strong immune system of an individual can fight against the agents of the disease. Vaccine helps improve the equilibrium.”

Stressing on the role of the media, Maulik said, “Media has been our long-standing partners in the fight against polio. We now seek your support to ensure that children, no matter where they live, are immunised. Vaccination not only saves children’s lives and ensures healthy and productive future, but is also one of the most cost-effective public health interventions.”

He further said that awareness is the major challenge due to which children are being missed during the vaccination.

Dr Phumzay Denzongpa, state immunisation officer, shared the background of cervical cancer. “Cervical cancer is the second commonest cause of cancer in women, accounting for approximately 10% of all female cancer cases. Eighty countries have already started this vaccination,” she added.

According to PCBR Sikkim report 2015, of 217 cancer cases in women, 25 were cervical cancer patients, she added. Phumzay also highlighted the causes and symptoms of cervical cancer.

“The campaign will be held for almost two weeks. Later, it will be incorporated as regular immunisation programme which will be conducted in the MCH clinic of respective district hopsitals, PHCs and ICDS which have vaccine storage facilities depending on the number of beneficiaries,” she added.

Dr SK Ray, WHO representative, congratulated Sikkim for introducing the vaccine. Clearing the doubts of the public, Ray said, “It is safe and one syringe is only used for one girl child. Fertility rate will not be affected as it has no relation to it. The vaccine cannot treat the ones who are already infected and women above 14 years can get themselves vaccinated privately following the three-dose schedule.”

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