Tuesday October 04, 2022

Plans to immunise girls against HPV infection ‘washed away in floods’, laments Dr Azra

September 23, 2022

karachi: Conceding that data was not available regarding deaths due to cancers, including cervical cancer, as no cancer registry existed in the country, Sindh Health Minister Dr Azra Pechuho on Thursday lamented that all plans to vaccinate adolescent girls to prevent them from human papillomavirus (HPV) infection had ‘washed away’ in the recent floods and now the entire health department was busy in ‘fire-fighting’ to save people’s lives from outbreaks and epidemics.

“We were planning to vaccinate adolescent girls against the HPV infection which causes cervical cancer but the devastating floods washed all our plans away. At the moment, our first and foremost priority is to save the lives of people from outbreaks and epidemics of water and vector-borne diseases. Once we overcome this crisis, we would return to our plan to vaccinate our young girls against HPV to prevent and eliminate cervical cancer,” she said while speaking at the inaugural ceremony of an international symposium at the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) of the University of Karachi.

Experts and scientists from 20 countries, including Germany, United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Turkey, are attending the three-day satellite symposium of the International Papillomavirus Society (IPVS) titled ‘Human Papillomavirus and Cervical Cancer’ at the ICCBS where research papers would be presented on the incidence and prevalence of HPV infection and cervical cancer.

Commenting on the disease and deaths caused by the recent floods, the health minister said people had started to die due to waterborne diseases, including diarrhoea and cholera, as well as malaria and dengue fever in the flood-affected areas but at the moment, no data was available with the health department about the mortalities being caused by the vector-borne diseases, especially malaria.

“Definitely, malaria would be causing deaths but we don’t have the actual data at the moment but most of the deaths are occurring due to diarrhoea and other water-borne diseases. Dengue has also emerged as a major health challenge in the urban areas and we are trying to contain these outbreaks and epidemics,” she said in response to questions by the media.

She lauded the ICCBS and the International Papillomavirus Society for organising the symposium, saying thousands of women were dying due to cancers of the reproductive system, including breast, ovarian and cervical cancers.

The lives of many women could be saved through immunisation against HPV infections, she added. Former federal minister for science Prof Dr Atta-ur-Rehman said the ICCBS was doing great job for the prevention and treatment of ancient and emerging diseases and the current symposium on cervical cancer was another milestone achieved by the centre.

He claimed that the ICCBS was among the major research centres around the globe where scientists from the entire world were conducting research through local and international grants. ICCBS Director Prof Dr Iqbal Choudhary deplored that sex and reproductive health education was still being considered as a ‘taboo’ in Pakistan due to which women and young girls were dying from preventable diseases.

He added that they were trying to break these taboos and come up with knowledge and education to improve health care and address other social and scientific issues in the country.

He called for further research on HPV, which was the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract and also briefed the participants about various health related research projects being conducted at Dr Panjwani Center under the ICCBS.

“It is important to conduct research to understand the causes of HPV prevalence in the Pakistani population and stop its unabated spread. The international centre has taken a lead in the national cause,” he said and appreciated the efforts of Dr Azra for supporting research at the ICCBS. KU Vice Chancellor Dr Khalid Iraqi, German Consul General in Karachi Dr Rudrigar Lotz, Prof Dr Thomas Iftner, Dr Atia-tul-Wahab and others also spoke on the occasion.