Jago Grahak Jago

Jago Grahak Jago Logo

Venezuela broke its HPV vaccine promises, and there’s barely any sex ed: Experts say it’s a problem

Apr 25,2024

Venezuela: Some of the 10 women and teenage girls who recently came to a medical clinic in eastern Venezuela for free contraceptives fidgeted a bit when a community health worker taught them how to use an IUD, condoms and birth control pills correctly.

The health worker also asked what they knew about HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the world and the cause of nearly all cervical cancer. Of the 10, ages 16 to 33 – two of whom had traveled to Putucual by boat and bus – only one had learned about human papillomavirus in middle school. The rest had talked about it with friends or cousins, but never their parents.

None knew HPV vaccines exist, even though Venezuelan pediatricians have long recommended giving all children the vaccine starting at age 9.

Venezuela’s government has repeatedly broken its promise to provide the shots for free, and many public-school teachers have failed to implement the requirement to teach sex ed. President Nicolas Maduro ‘s administration claims the well-being of youth and women is a priority, but the onus is on parents to talk to their kids about HPV and pay for the vaccines at private clinics. That’s out of reach for most in a country where private-sector workers earn $202 a month on average, and public employees’ monthly minimum wage is $3.60 plus $100 in bonuses.

Most HPV infections are asymptomatic and go away without treatment. But some can lead to genital warts and cancers, primarily of the cervix, but also of the anus, penis and throat.

Official health care statistics are elusive in Venezuela, making it virtually impossible to know the rate of HPV infection or how many people have been vaccinated either privately or by nongovernmental organizations. HPV vaccine coverage estimates from the World Health Organization show a blank space for Venezuela.

In 2022, Maduro’s administration estimated 30% of Venezuelan women are affected by cancer-causing strains of HPV. But the Ministry of Popular Power for Health did not publicly provide the data nor historical figures to show how the rate may have changed.

Health care professionals in the South American country told The Associated Press that the government’s figure is an undercount.

“With HPV, all governments have a social and moral debt to the female population,” said Dr. Carlos Cabrera, an OB-GYN in private practice and director of the maternal fetal medicine program at the Central University of Venezuela. “But people don’t like to talk about sexual and reproductive health.”

When HPV shots first hit the market in the mid-2000s, the oil-dependent state’s coffers were flush. The price of oil – Venezuela’s most valuable resource – was steadily climbing and the country produced more than a million barrels a day. In 2009, doctors urged the government of President Hugo Chavez to introduce the HPV vaccine into the country, but they were ignored.

In 2015, Ministry of Health officials appeared ready to start offering HPV shots, mentioning in the agency’s annual performance report that the country’s vaccine schedule would include them and they “would be administered starting in 2016.” By this time, Venezuela’s budget holes due to financial mismanagement were apparent, but U.S. economic sanctions had not yet crippled the oil industry.

Venezuela’s last vaccine promise came in late 2022 after it reached an agreement with GAVI, a public-private global alliance that helps poor countries procure vaccinations. Government officials said shipments were expected for 2023, but no shots were distributed then, and they are also not listed among those being offered during national vaccination week.

The Ministry of Popular Power for Communication and Information did not respond to questions from the AP about the status of the vaccines, including reasons for the delay.

Source: Healthworld

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *