Men equally at risk of HPV infection

Experts argue that vaccinating boys as well as girls for the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) would have a dual advantage as it would protect both men and their female partners from infection. HPV is largely transmitted through sexual contact.   

According to the South African Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world. Head of gynaecological oncology at Stellenbosch University, Hennie Botha, estimates that 80% of sexually active adults will be exposed to a cancer-causing strain of the virus. 

“Although women have a much higher risk of developing cancer than men, the virus also causes cancer in men. About one in every four head and neck cancers are associated with HPV. The risk of HPV infection is exactly the same in men and women,” says Botha.

The head of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, Shabir Madhi, says men are the ones who transmit HPV to women. “If you want to interrupt the circulation of the virus sooner, then you should be targeting boys as well. But in addition to that there’re also complications of HPV infection in boys, men can develop diseases like penile or throat cancer, as well as genital warts, because of HPV.” 

According to the World Health Organisation there are more than 100 types of HPV “of which 13 are cancer-causing”. A 2013 article in the South African Journal of Gynaecological Oncology estimates that 70% of HPV infections in women are cleared naturally by the immune system. “However, cervical cancer is almost always caused by persistent HPV infection,” the article states. 

Cost
Currently, the national health department provides free vaccination to girls in grade four in public schools around the country. The vaccine helps prevent HPV infection, which in turn prevents the development of cervical cancer in women.

Speaking at the launch of the government’s HPV vaccination programme last year, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said that 6 000 South African women are affected by cervical cancer annually and “between 3 000 and 3 500 die” as a result.  

Yogan Pillay, the deputy director general of HIV, TB and women and child health in the national health department, says that so far 83% of the targeted 380 000 girls have received the two doses of the vaccine. 

Cervarix, the vaccine that is being used by the public health sector costs nearly R800 per dose in the private sector. Two doses are needed. According to Pillay, the government pays about a fifth of the private sector price.  

Pillay says that government has considered vaccinating boys as well but “the problem is cost. If we vaccinate boys we’ll have to get another vaccine, which covers genital warts in particular [which the current vaccine doesn’t].  “At the moment we have to focus on where the biggest problem is and that is the cervical cancer risk associated with HPV infection in girls,” he says.

Make sense of your world

Subscribe to Mail & Guardian at R10/mth for the first three months. Cancel anytime.

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.

Ina Skosana
Ina Skosana was a health reporter at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian’s centre for health journalism, from 2013 to 2017.
Bhekisisa team
Bhekisisa Team
Health features and news from across Africa by Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Latest stories

Landmark battle over River Club imperils Amazon HQ plans

If the high court in Cape Town rules for an interim interdict in the River Club project to halt building on heritage land, Amazon is likely to pull out

What will it take to halt institutional decay and defend...

Selfless leaders and engaged citizens must protect their nations from seeping into failure during their transition to democracy

Worry about food prices, not heavy rains

Farmers face higher input costs such as hikes in fertilisers and fuel prices as well as the expected 20.5% electricity hike requested by Eskom, says AgriSA

Kidnapping in Mayfair: Claims and counterclaims

More revelations in multimillion-rand Mayfair kidnapping
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×