Free vaccination against cervical cancer for Abu Dhabi women

Women between the ages of 18 and 26 will be eligible for the emirate-wide scheme from June 1.

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ABU DHABI // More Emirati women will be vaccinated against cervical cancer thanks to the expansion of a free immunisation scheme.

The emirate-wide programme will target Emirati women between the ages of 18 and 26 from June 1.

Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer among Abu Dhabi women, even though it is preventable.

The HPV vaccine - which fights the human papillomavirus that causes most cases of the disease - is given free to Emirati and expatriate pupils aged 15 to 17 at government and private schools.

Ninety per cent of eligible girls had received the first and second of the three required doses as of last year. The scheme is now being rolled out to the next age bracket, with the vaccine free for Emirati women through the Thiqa health insurance plan.

There were 61 cases of cervical cancer diagnosed in the emirate in 2011, the most up-to-date statistics available.

A third of the cases involved Emiratis and half the patients were between the ages of 35 and 55. About 70 per cent of the cases were at stage two or three, when only one in four women survives.

The Health Authority Abu Dhabi hopes rolling out the vaccination scheme will target those who may not have been immunised.

"There are people we did not cover. There are people that missed the doses," said Dr Jalaa Taher, the head of cancer control and prevention at the health authority. "We would like to ensure that all newcomers, up to the age of 26, are covered."

The target during the first year of the campaign is at least 80 per cent coverage, said Dr Taher, which is slightly less than the rate of the original scheme.

"It will not be a school-based programme. The other was very easy to reach, less costly," she said. "This one will be a bit challenging because we are going to the facilities, we are targeting the facilities where these age groups might go.

"But I hope that working with the doctors and nurses and the awareness of the public that we'll get this 80 per cent."

The catch-up programme is in line with the health authority's ongoing awareness campaign, which saw the introduction of the UAE's first cervical-cancer screening programme last month.

Sexually active women between the ages of 25 and 65 are now offered a regular pap smear at one of 25 public healthcare centres.

Previously, only women who requested the test received it.