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Friday, September 23, 2016, 23:49

Free cervical cancer vaccines available for low-income girls

By Willa Wu

HONG KONG - Some 31,000 girls from low-income families will receive free cervical cancer vaccinations under a pilot program starting Oct 3, Community Care Fund (CCF) announced on Friday.

The three-year Free Cervical Cancer Vaccination Pilot Scheme involves HK$98.75 million funding from the government charitable trust fund CCF.

It will benefit girls aged between 9 and 18 who are receiving Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, as well as female students aged 9 or above who are receiving a full grant under the School Textbook Assistance Scheme.

In Hong Kong, cervical cancer was the seventh most common cancer among women in 2013, with 503 new cases and 142 deaths, according to the city’s health authority.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a virus that is transmitted through sexual contact and causes the majority of cervical cancer cases. Currently Hong Kong has three registered HPV vaccines – 2-valent vaccine, 4-valent vaccine and 9-valent vaccine. They are provided mainly in private clinics with prices ranging from HK$2,500 to HK$4,500.

Under the scheme, the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong (FPAHK) will administer three doses of 9-valent vaccine to eligible girls. The new vaccine was introduced to Hong Kong last year, after all-round risk assessments by the Department of Health.

Applicants should call the three youth healthcare centers of the FPAHK to register and book the first appointment.

On the first appointment, beneficiaries are asked to bring documents that prove their identities and financial status. Applicants who are under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or a legal guardian.

After their documents are checked, qualified applicants will receive clinical assessments. Doctors will go through applicants' medical history to see whether they are suitable to take the vaccines.

Beneficiaries are advised to come back to the centers to take vaccines on time. Failure to show up on the designated date instructed by doctors for administering a vaccine is considered as giving up the scheme.

Fan Yun-sun, executive director of the FPAHK, said there was no quota set for the scheme and recommended girls starting from the age of 9 to take the vaccines, as a high level of antibodies to HPV is easier to produce at younger age.

In total 13,800 Hong Kong female residents have received 2-valent and 4-valent HPV vaccines through the association in the past 10 years, she said.

Low-income families support groups welcomed the initiative, but suggested that the government promote the program more extensively to reach the target recipients.

Sze Lai-shan, from the Society for Community Organization, said not all parents considered it necessary for their daughters to receive the vaccines. The government should intensify promotion about the vaccine's benefits.

She also suggested in the government review raising the age limit of eligible applicants to cover older women from low-income families.

willa@chinadailyhk.com

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