Religious leaders should help with drive on cervical cancer education

26Nov 2019
The Guardian
Religious leaders should help with drive on cervical cancer education

THE Health ministry officials and the Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania (Mewata) are in the thick of a campaign to talk 14-year-old girls, mostly in primary school, into cervical cancer vaccination.

The measure is intended to obviate chances of contracting the virus-based disease linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV), which medical experts say has its own vaccination.

However, sections of society see the measure as part of a devious family planning drive geared at sterilisation of African girls as a population-reduction scheme.

This sentiment has been there for many years in relation especially to HIV and AIDS, where many radical pseudo-experts in the medicine and mass communication kept suggesting that the virus was laboratory prepared as part of Cold War bacteriological warfare research.

This has over the years been proved blatantly false, as HIV is a retroviral type of virus and analysts say the medical profession (that is, biomedicine) knew nothing about such types of virus and only connected the dots or parameters in studying the virus.

In several countries in West Africa in particular, where militant and extremist organisations are more implanted in society than obtains in East Africa, polio vaccination has always been problematic.

Conspiracy theories spread the same false alarms – that these campaigns are aimed at jabs upon African society as a whole or those of a particular faith, thus threatening to sabotage government efforts to eradicate polio.

Measles is meanwhile back with a vengeance in some parts of Africa and other parts of the world as certain areas did not complete their vaccination efforts at certain moments, effectively making the virus start spreading again.

Mewata president Dr Mary Charles was on record at the weekend as making the point that cervical cancer vaccination has no link with family planning efforts. She said that the “link” was being alleged by certain community leaders who mistrust things like vaccination campaigns.

Obviously, at some level of society, it is not possible for one to separate agencies responsible for family planning and those pursuing measles or cervical cancer vaccination.

It is easy to lump them together for reasons including cultural mistrust, which is part and parcel of nationalist ideology and other influences.

Therefore, it is not enough that community leaders at local government level or in schools or education departments in district councils take up the matter.

It is as important that moral leadership is affirmed in the matter, where religious authorities are usually the most credible moral leaders as public officials are judged at the level of public opinion by their respective religious obedience if the matter touches on religion.

It is thus vital that other relevant community leaders take up this campaign, if only to allay fears that there is something sinister up the sleeve of unscrupulous health and other authorities. It can also be done by a statement at the top level, even without a spirited and generalised campaign.

Public health is a matter of fundamental significance, and no one should play games with it. Urgent measures must be taken to arrest any chances of the matter getting out of hand.

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