The University of Botswana in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness as well as the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this week launched a study on the prevalence of the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) in Botswana. 

The study will commence with enrollment of unvaccinated 18-22 year-old females and males at UB and HIV clinics in government health facilities. The baseline information will facilitate assessment of the impact of the national HPV vaccination programme which was launched in Botswana in 2015.

“Our study will tell us how common vaccine-preventable infections are among 18-22 year old females and males, including females living with HIV,” said Acting Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, Professor Doreen Masire, at the launch on October 15, 2019.

Professor Masire said the burden of cervical cancer and other cancers remain a challenge in Botswana and Sub Saharan Africa. She said in Botswana cervical cancer continued to be the leading cause of deaths amongst females, despite having a successful world class national HIV treatment programme.

She noted that HPV Virus was common in women and men who spread it through sexual contact. Consequently, Professor Masire said Botswana was the second country in Africa to introduce HPV Vaccine as a primary prevention measure.

“The study will allow the researchers to show how well the vaccine is working in high risk groups, which is important to Botswana and other countries with high burden of HIV and Cervical Cancer,” she added.

According to the researchers, it is important to note that there is very little known about the effectiveness of the HPV vaccine in females living with HIV. Therefore, including females living with HIV in this study will allow the researchers to show how well the vaccine is working in this high-risk group, which is particularly important for Botswana and other countries with a dual high burden of HIV and cervical cancer.

Further, including males in this study will allow the researchers to observe indirect protection from the female vaccination programme.  Males can be protected from HPV infection because there is less HPV spreading in the community, the researchers observe.

Reduction in vaccine-preventable HPV infections has been observed soon after immunization in many developed countries (within 2-5 years).  A decline in vaccine-preventable HPV infections has also been observed in males in countries with female only vaccination programs. 

Prof Masire added, “We will again measure the HPV prevalence in 4-5 years’ time, when vaccinated girls reach this same age group (18-22 years olds), to monitor the impact of the national vaccination program in preventing cervical cancer in our context.”

Speaking at the same event, UB Vice Chancellor, Professor David Norris, said the study would create a positive impact to health outcomes in preventing cervical cancer and other cancers in the country. Professor Norris noted that the research findings would allow objective review of returns on investment of funds used in HPV vaccine besides assisting policy makers to embark on evidence-based decision making.

Acting Centre for Disease Control Country Director, Mrs Nwando Diallo, said the US government was keen to support Botswana National Cervical Cancer Prevention Programme in the implementation and expansion of cervical cancer prevention activities, including screening and treatment of precancerous lesions.

Mrs Diallo further said the America’s participation in the study demonstrated commitment to public health research, strong partnership with Botswana as well as passion to collaborate with local academic and research institutions to collectively improve the health of Batswana.

Meanwhile, the research team comprises lead investigator, Professor Masire, Ms Anikie Mathoma, Ms Malebogo Masono, Ms Maitumelo Masole, Ms Sibongile Phiri, Ms Katego Rowland, Ms Godiraone Lehorososo and Mr John Ditlhage.

From CDC who will be assisting with training and technical support in the use of Anyplex for HPV detection, they include Dr Nancy McClung, Ms Julia Gargano, Mr Troy Querec and Ms Juanita Onyekwuluje.

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