Dubai: To cut the rates of cervical cancer in the UAE, a vaccination programme is expected be part of the national immunisation schedule by 2014, said a senior public health official from the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) on Wednesday.

The International Journal of Cancer states that more than 70 per cent of cervical cancers are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) strains 16 and 18. 
The HPV is a common virus spread through sexual contact, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the HPV vaccine prevents the most common strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts.

The WHO ranks cervical cancer as the fourth most frequent cancer among women in UAE, pegging the percentage at 7.4 per 100,000 women.

The HPV immunisation, which requires three doses, is administered for ages 17-26 in the UAE. In Western countries it is administered for ages nine to 26. The higher age in the UAE is assumed to represent Islamic culture and values.

Currently only Abu Dhabi has a free HPV immunisation programme, launched in 2008, for Emirati women aged 18-26.

However, the UAE’s HPV immunisation programme isn’t mandatory yet.

During the event, held in collaboration with Mediclinic Group and pharmaceutical company MSD, officials highlighted the need for a nation-wide vaccination programme against cervical cancer. 
Speaking to Gulf News, Dr Mohammad Wasif Alam, director of Public Health and Safety, Health Policy and Strategy Sector at the DHA, said that plans are under way to introduce HPV immunisation as part of the authority’s public health initiatives. 
“Introducing the HPV immunisation in the national immunisation schedule is a priority for the DHA, Hopefully, by the end of 2013, a policy will be drafted and implemented next year. Potentially it will be free,” he said.

Dr Anne Philip, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Mediclinic City Hospital, spoke about the need for a screening programme for cervical cancer. She told Gulf News, “A pap test screens for cervical cancer. It is recommended for ages 21–65. A screening programme will reduce the incidence of cancer and remove disease precursors before it develops into cancer.”

Dr Leon Du Preez, medical director from Mediclinic City Hospital, added, “Though our paediatricians, we want to encourage our young female patients to get vaccinated, and through our gynaecologists, we want to educate women on regular screenings for cervical cancer.”

The Immunisation Guidelines by the Department of Public Health and Safety at the DHA approved Gardasil (by Merck & Co) and Cervarix (by GlaxoSmithKline) to protect against the two strains of HPV that cause cervical cancer.

The event marked World Immunisation Week, observed by WHO every year in the last week of April.