Fighting cervical cancer in Lao PDR
In 2021, led by the Lao Women’s Union, Laos made a commitment to combat HPV.
- 4 February 2022
- 3 min read
- by Napua Nzyuko
In Lao PDR, woman activists have been leading the fight against human papillomavirus (HPV). During International Women’s Day celebrations in 2021, feminist activists, leaders and doctors countrywide gathered to celebrate and champion better health for women and girls, with a particular focus on the fight against cervical cancer. In Vientiane, women’s movements, led by the Lao Women’s Union, gathered in commemoration of the girl child during the International Women’s Day forum.
“Some parents were unaware of the HPV vaccine, and others even of the disease itself. We had to convince and educate them first before they allowed us to administer the vaccines.”
“I strongly advocate for the importance of vaccinating our young girls against HPV. This way, their bodies will remain immune to the virus, thus reducing the chances of getting cervical cancer and other HPV-related diseases,” remarked President Inlavanh Keobounphanh of the Lao Women’s Union during an International Women’s Day forum.
The leaders present discussed joining hands to take the HPV vaccine into schools and to the remote regions of Lao PDR. The country continues to have a predominantly patriarchal system where gender inequality prevails.
“For many years, women have experienced inequalities and been discriminated against but it is time to confront the societal injustices head-on. First, we are heading to learning and religious institutions to take the HPV vaccines to our girls. We have doctors, health practitioners, and other leaders on standby,” said Lao Women’s Union Vice President, Bouachanh Syhanath.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has been supporting the routine immunisation of girls with HPV across Lao PDR since March 2020. Girls between ages 9 and 14 years are given priority. The intent is to introduce the vaccine to adolescent girls before they engage in any form of sexual intercourse – the primary method by which HPV spreads.
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With Gavi-donated HPV vaccines, the Lao Women’s Union and other leaders has embarked on a journey to reach out to as many girls as possible.
“Some parents were unaware of the HPV vaccine, and others even of the disease itself. We had to convince and educate them first before they allowed us to administer the vaccines,” says Nurse Sisay Thammavong.
Another group of clinicians and women leaders travelled for hours to Boun Tai village, in a remote area in in northern Lao PDR. The government issued modern transporting equipment for the HPV vaccines to prevent damage. Upon arrival, they spent time educating residents on the importance of HPV vaccination following which the parents accompanied their daughters to be vaccinated.
“My schooling daughter has received her vaccine courtesy of Lao Women’s Union. Cervical cancer won’t be as much of a concern for her. I thank the women leaders and doctors for their earnest dedication and selflessness,” said Bounyong Somchanh, a parent in Boun Tai village.
The inhabitants of Boun Tai and Luang Prabang areas did, however, express concern that the leaders and health worker would, possibly, not return to give them their second and third doses of the HPV vaccine.
The vice president of Lao Women’s Union, Bouachanh Syhanath, assured them, “We will be back to the people to administer the rest of the doses to them. The fight against cervical cancer is far from over, and we intend to keep our word.”
“Through women leaders and movements, we intend to make Laos a cervical cancer-free country as time goes by. Thanks to Gavi-sponsored vaccines, even other cancers caused by HPV are eliminated in the process,” President Inlavanh Keobounphanh noted.