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FM Sitharaman Declares Free Cervical Cancer Vaccine For Girls Aged 9-14

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her interim budget speech for 2024-25, indicated that the government would actively “promote” vaccination to combat cervical cancer. Despite this commitment, the finance minister did not provide specific details regarding the government’s plan, leaving uncertainties about its inclusion in the national immunization program.

Sitharaman stated, “Our government will encourage vaccination for girls aged 9 to 14 years as a preventive measure against cervical cancer” during her budget speech.

Cervical Cancer in India: Addressing the Urgent Need

In India, cervical cancer ranks as the second most common cancer among women, posing a significant health challenge. The primary cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The prevalence of HPV remains high due to low awareness and limited access to vaccination programs, despite the central government’s efforts to implement cancer screening programs nationwide.

Expert Insights and Recommendations

Dr. Krithiga Shridhar, an Epidemiologist at the Centre for Chronic Disease Control (CCDC), emphasized the global commitment to eliminate cervical cancer through vaccination, screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. Cervical cancer stands as the leading cancer among women in rural regions and the second most common female cancer in India, comprising nearly a fifth of all cancers in women, according to National Cancer Registry Data.

Enhancing Prevention and Treatment Strategies

Highlighting the urgency, Dr. Krithiga Shridhar stressed the importance of population-level screening and HPV vaccination programs. She called for identifying critical research and implementation gaps, assessing screening preparedness, and fostering collaborations to enhance cervical cancer research capacity for improved prevention and treatment strategies in India.

Progress and Initiatives Across States

The NTAGI (National Immunization Technical Advisory Group) had recommended the introduction of the HPV vaccine into the UIP on June 28, 2022, proposing a one-time catch-up program for adolescent girls aged 9-14 years, followed by routine introduction at nine years of age. Several states have already taken proactive steps in this direction.

State Initiatives for HPV Vaccination

Delhi initiated a program for girls aged 9-14 in 2016, achieving high coverage rates. Punjab, Sikkim, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, and Maharashtra have announced free HPV vaccination for schoolgirls in specific districts as part of pilot programs. Mizoram has included free HPV vaccination in its routine immunization program for girls aged 10-12 years, while Uttar Pradesh has also announced free HPV vaccination for schoolgirls in select districts as part of a pilot program.

Important Questions Related to Exams

  1. For which age group did Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman propose to “encourage vaccination as a preventive measure against cervical cancer”?
  2. Which state initiated a program for HPV vaccination for girls aged 9-14 in 2016?

Kindly share your responses in the comment section.

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