The Vaccine and Cervical Cancer Screen (VACCS) project: Linking cervical cancer screening to HPV vaccination in the South-West District of Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa
Background. Cervical cancer is preventable, but still highly prevalent in South Africa (SA). Screening strategies in the country have been ineffective, and new ways to prevent the disease are needed.
Objectives. To investigate the feasibility of linking cervical cancer screening in adult women to human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in schoolgirls.
Methods. Ten primary schools in the South-West District of Tshwane, Gauteng Province, SA, took part in the study. Cervical cancer and HPV vaccine information was provided to schoolgirls and their parents. Consented schoolgirls were vaccinated and their female parents were invited to participate in self-screening.
Results. Among 1 654 girls invited for vaccination, the consented and invited uptake rates were 99.4% and 64.0%, respectively. Vaccine completion rates were higher in schools where the vaccination programme was completed in the same calendar year than in those where it was administered over two calendar years. Of 569 adult females invited, 253 (44.5%) returned screen tests; 169 (66.8%) tested negative and 75 (29.6%) positive for any high-risk HPV (hrHPV). There were no differences in level of education, employment status or access to healthcare between women with positive and those with negative screen results.
Conclusions. Implementation of HPV vaccination in a primary school-based programme was successful, with high vaccine uptake and completion rates. Self-screening reached the ideal target group, and it is possible to link cervical cancer screening to the cervical cancer vaccine by giving women the opportunity of self-sampling for hrHPV testing. This is a novel and feasible approach that would require some adaptive strategies.
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