Prime Minister (PM) Charlot Salwai officiated the ceremonial launch of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination Program in PENAMA Province yesterday.

The event, organised by the office of the Director General (DG) of Health and Health Authorities of PENAMA, highlighted the ongoing efforts to combat cervical cancer in Vanuatu.

“Today, I want to express my support for the efforts of the Ministries of Health and Education in continuing their collaborative work to achieve vaccination targets for every school-aged child from 9 to 14 years old in every school in this province,” said PM Salwai.

“However, it is not just about that; parents of girls aged 9 to 14 who are not in school and are at home must also ensure their children receive the vaccine.

“I believe that the Ministry of Health is providing special training to health workers to ensure the effective administration of the vaccine and coordination with school teachers and schoolgirls to learn more about HPV and its vaccine. This approach will help schoolgirls and their parents understand the importance of the vaccine and ensure its uptake.”

PM Salwai encouraged cooperation from all stakeholders, such as chiefs, church leaders, women leaders, and youth leaders, to support the vaccination or HPV vaccine program that the government wants to roll out in their province.

He explained that the reason for this effort stems from HPV, which is a virus that causes cancer in women in many countries around the world. In Vanuatu, there is an average of 8 women who die from this cancer every year.

“The challenges we face in addressing this issue include: lack of enough doctors to provide proper treatment and advice to patients, limited access to screening for this cancer among our women and limited access to cancer treatment,” the PM listed.

“These challenges are contributing factors to the high death rate from cancer in Vanuatu. Therefore, the government introduced the HPV vaccine last year, it consists of only one dose for girls aged 9 to 14. This is an effective strategy to reduce the number of cancer cases in our country.

“As we did during the COVID-19 period, although we faced many challenges in carrying out vaccination campaigns against the disease through social media and various leaders of our society, we managed to carry out the COVID-19 vaccination program and alleviate worries and hesitations among the people to come for COVID-19 vaccination.

 “In the spirit of understanding, wisdom, and respect for our mothers today and the mothers of tomorrow, I am making a special appeal to all the village chiefs of this province to ensure that our school-aged girls and those who are not in school but are aged 9 to 14 years old, must come for the HPV vaccine.”