On March 4 2017, the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) announced its commitment to raising awareness of human papillomaviruses (HPV) through an annual International Human Papillomavirus (HPV) awareness day commemoration.
Living by the promise, IPVS inaugurated the awareness campaign on March 4 2018. The 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 to reduce the risks of HPV-related diseases, which include cancers of the cervix, mouth and throat, anal and genital cancers.
As a microbiologist, I joined 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 socioe-conomic 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. Emory University Atlanta State professor of epidemiology Kevin Sullivan outlines these costs to include Pap tests, treatment of genital warts, follow-up of cellular changes and cytological abnormalities and management of cervical cancer.
HPV is a virus that can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex. HPV 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 types.
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 World Health Organisation (WHO). As HPV is very common and easy to transmit – around 80 percent 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 campaign in Africa was fronted by Earth’s Microorganisms Organisation (EMO) using flash mobs, seminars and lectures to raise awareness and encourage action.
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 impacts, as well as ways to prevent it.
Responding to HPV Awareness day campaign
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.
Also, we must continue to eliminate negative impressions and assertions that will impede the progression of HPV preventive tools like HPV vaccines. We must address misconceptions about HPV vaccine which all scientific research shows to be safe.n