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Human Papilloma Virus vaccine with syringe and vial at a clinic (Photo by Sherry Yates Young from Shutterstock.com).

Free Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for Secondary 1 female students

The government will provide free Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination to protect current and future cohorts of Secondary 1 female students if they wish to protect them against cervical cancer starting from April 2019, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor announced during her ministry’s Committee of Supply debate speech on Wednesday (6 March).

She stated that all other female Singaporeans and permanent residents from the same cohorts, including those studying in private education institutions, will also be eligible.

She added that a one-time catch-up programme will be progressively provided for current cohorts of secondary school female students.

Dr Khor said that other countries such as the United Kingdom and Brunei also have similar programmes providing the vaccination in national school-based health programmes, and this is in line with World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations.

She noted that about 70 women die of the disease every year, adding that there were about 200 new cases of cervical cancer annually from 2011 to 2015.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will set aside S$2.5 million each year for the HPV vaccination programme and about S$10 million for the one-time catch-up programme.

The ministry noted that HPV vaccination in women was assessed to be cost-effective for the prevention of cervical cancer in Singapore.

The ministry spokesperson said that the expected benefits from HPV vaccination such as increase in life-years and avoidance of cancer, including the cost of treatment, outweigh the cost of administering the vaccine in the longer term.

In addition, MOH said that it will introduce a more accurate test to screen for cervical cancer which can detect the presence of cancer-causing HPV strains and would require less frequent visits to the doctor.

Women aged 30 years and above need only be screened once every five years, as compared to the current Pap Smear test that needs to be done every three years with the new test,.

“The better test will cost more, but the Government will provide more subsidies, so the cost to women will be the same in the long run,” Dr Khor said.

Cervical cancer is a cancer arising from the cervix. It is due to the abnormal growth of cells that have the ability to invade or spread to other parts of the body.

Early on, typically no symptoms are seen. Later symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain, or pain during sexual intercourse. While bleeding after sex may not be serious, it may also indicate the presence of cervical cancer.

Human papillomavirus infection (HPV) causes more than 90% of cases; most people who have had HPV infections, however, do not develop cervical cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, a weak immune system, birth control pills, starting sex at a young age, and having many sexual partners, but these are less important.