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First HPV vaccine impact project in Africa

- Wits University

The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute will evaluate the impact of HPV vaccine schedules on the prevalence of this virus on SA adolescent girls.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) causes cervical cancer, the leading cancer amongst women aged 15-44.

The study by the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) will evaluate the impact of two-dose and one-dose HPV vaccination schedules on community level HPV prevalence in South African adolescent girls.

In 2014, the National Department of Health introduced HPV vaccination as a central strategy for cervical cancer prevention in South Africa. The current vaccine schedule requires administration of two doses. However, there are a number of barriers to the administration of the second dose in particular, and there is growing interest in the potential of a single dose of HPV vaccine to provide enough protection.

In February and March 2019, the research team will conduct an HPV vaccine catch-up campaign using a single dose of HPV vaccine in a population of adolescent girls in Grade 10 in Lejweleputswa District of the Free State, who would have been too old to receive the vaccine in 2014 when it was introduced.

To evaluate the impact of the HPV vaccine in reducing HPV infection, the team will establish a network of surveillance sites. These will include five primary healthcare clinics in Lejweleputswa and three others in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and North West provinces.

In 2019, 2021 and 2023, researchers will conduct HPV prevalence surveys in these clinics among women aged 17-18 years seeking family planning services. These surveys will enable researcher to measure changes in the prevalence of HPV infection in age cohorts that were not eligible for vaccination compared to those that were, and received either one or two doses of vaccine.

“The results of this study will have important implications for future programming, If a single dose is as effective as two doses in preventing HPV infection, this may translate into increased cost savings and improved vaccine coverage, which ultimately leads to better cervical cancer prevention and control”, says Professor Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, project lead at Wits RHI. Final study results are expected in early 2024.

The National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation made two awards to fund this study over the next five years. 

About Wits RHI

The Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute (Wits RHI) is a leading African research institute focusing on HIV, sexual and reproductive health and vaccine preventable diseases. It is the largest research institute of the University of the Witwatersrand and has contributed to health policies in South Africa. Wits RHI is also a Medical Research Council-collaborating centre, a World Health Organization- collaborating centre, and a United Nations Population Fund strategic partner.