Vaccines against cervical cancer are currently under review by both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Union. The vaccines, which prevent infection with strains of the human papillomavirus that are associated with most cases of cervical cancer, will be effective only if all young people—not just those at high risk—are vaccinated before they become sexually active. But reaching adolescents with the three injections needed to provide immunity will be a challenge.
Results from recent surveys by the Guttmacher Institute in four Sub-Saharan African countries provide some encouraging evidence: At least one in five girls and one in four boys aged 12–14 reported they had received one or more medical injections in the past year. Even in rural areas, many young people receive injections from doctors and nurses and school-based programs could increase coverage. These findings, published today in the British medical journal The Lancet, suggest that existing health care systems and schools are well placed to implement cervical cancer vaccination, potentially saving the lives of some of the 225,000 women worldwide who die each year of cervical cancer.
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