The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a widespread sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects men and women alike, as infections can lead to several forms of cancer. But only young girls are receiving the free vaccine, leaving boys in the dark even though it’s outlined in the national cancer plan.
Around 85% of people get an HPV infection at some point in their life, meaning almost anyone who is sexually active will get it. It is the most common STD in Malta, with almost 800 cases in 2019.
While most HPV infections will go away on their own, infections that don’t go away can cause certain types of cancer. In women, HPV can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva.
But it is a misconception that only women can get infected with HPV. HPV infections are responsible for a range of non-cervical diseases in both sexes. It can lead to genital warts as well as oral, throat and anal cancer in men.
For pre-teen and adolescent girls, the HPV vaccine is provided free of charge. They are encouraged to be immunised against cervical cancer caused by HPV. But boys don’t qualify for it.
The inaccurate belief that HPV is only useful for pre-sexually active girls has led to the lack of protection of boys. Protection against this cancer-inducing disease is of utmost importance.
The HPV vaccine protects boys and men from HPV infections that can cause cancers and genital warts. It will also reduce transmission and increase herd immunity, which will help reduce the overall number of cervical cancers in women.
The Malta National Cancer plan says that “An evaluation of the programme will be performed at the completion of the first five years. This will include an exploration of the impact of expanding the program to include male children of the same age cohort of the girls already being invited.”
However, to date, there has been no progress in this direction. It is high time the government includes the vaccine for boys and plans to eliminate HPV from Malta.
The EU Cancer Plan states that “Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan will support Member States’ efforts to extend routine vaccination against human papillomaviruses of girls and boys – in order to eliminate cervical cancer and other cancers caused by human papillomaviruses.”
The objective is to vaccinate at least 90% of the EU target population of girls and to significantly increase the vaccination of boys by 2030. Malta will play a role in meeting this target.
The UK government announced that boys would be given the HPV vaccine for the first time in July 2018, when it was already routinely offered to girls the same age.
Do you think we should make HPV-related diseases a thing of the past?