At least 86 percent of the targeted girls between 10 and 15 years have been vaccinated under the ongoing HPV (Human Papilloma Virus) vaccination programme, which ends in May this year.

Essentially, HPV vaccines prevent infection by certain types of human papilloma virus, which is the major cause of cervical cancer in women.

Director of epidemiology and disease control in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Dr Portia Manangazira told The Sunday Mail last week that Government was confident of vaccinating the targeted 900 000 girls within the next three months.

“The mop-up campaign targeted 900 000 girls and so far we have achieved 86 percent coverage. And by the end of the campaign, we would have reached the targeted number,” said Dr Manangazira.

She said Government was particularly targeting those between the ages of 10 and 15 as they were not sexually active.

In addition, the vaccines that were secured with the support of Gavi (the vaccine alliance) were specifically for the identified age groups.

Gavi is an international organisation that brings together the public and private sector to create equal access to new and underused vaccines for children in developing countries.

“We had to come up with the correct age that would meet with the requirements of the vaccine that was provided by Gavi, which states that the girls should not be sexually active,” she said.

Schools have been the most efficient and resourceful to carry out the campaign, she added, and in future the programme will be part of schools’ health programmes.

From 2020, vaccinations will target Grade Five girls only.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of death among Zimbabwean women, accounting for 15 percent of all cancer cases reported by the Zimbabwe Cancer Registry in 2012.

The 2010 Zimbabwe HPV and Related Cancers Summary Report says it is responsible for 1 286 deaths annually, with 2 587 new cases and 1 772 deaths projected by 2025.

HPV affects the skin and body’s moist membrane linings, mainly genitalia, mouth and throat.

Continued exposure to HPV 16 and 18 through intercourse could lead to pre-cancerous lesions that later develop into cancer if untreated.

Other HPV types are, however, harmless, often clearing without medical intervention.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation played a key role in the Health and Child Care Ministry’s HPV vaccination pilot programme, which targeted over 4 000 girls from Marondera and Beitbridge Sundaymail