Cambodia commenced a nationwide immunisation effort on October 5 to combat cervical cancer. Free vaccinations are provided to girls aged nine and above. The one-dose human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine is now integrated into the national immunisation schedule.

This programme is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, and local public health administrations. Support is extended by Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), WHO, UNICEF and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI).

According to a joint press release, HPV vaccines will be accessible to nine-year-old girls across the nation through regular school and community vaccination outreach sessions and year-round services at health centres.

During the launch event, Minister of Health Chheang Ra urged healthcare providers and partners to unite in safeguarding all girls in the country.

“Cervical cancer is a significant public health concern in Cambodia. We are intensifying our collaborative endeavours to eradicate this life-threatening ailment by incorporating the HPV vaccine into the National Immunisation Programme. Commencing today, we aim to make the HPV vaccine freely available to all nine-year-old girls. Additionally, we have outlined a campaign in 2025 to extend HPV vaccinations to girls older than nine years,” he announced.

Cervical cancer has been regarded as almost entirely preventable, but it is a ‘silent killer’. Globally, it ranks as the fourth most common form of cancer. It occurs notably in lower- and middle-income countries, like Cambodia, according to the release.

It is the second most common and third deadliest cancer among women of all ages in Cambodia. Every year, in excess of 1,100 new cases have been detected resulting in more than 600 deaths.

According to the WHO, the one-dose vaccine is 80 to 90 per cent effective in suppressing HPV infection and preventing cervical cancer.

With the introduction of this immunisation, the Kingdom now joins 136 other countries in the effort to prevent this disease.

“Ensuring all eligible girls, especially those living in high risk, urban poor, remote and rural communities, and ethnic and migrant populations, have access to the HPV vaccine and other essential services for their sexual and reproductive health is critical for safeguarding the well-being of every girl in Cambodia,” said Will Parks, UNICEF representative in Cambodia.

“UNICEF is committed to supporting the government’s efforts to eliminate cervical cancer and improve health for all,” he added.

Pascal Ringwald, WHO acting representative in Cambodia, congratulated the health ministry for this historic decision.

“The vaccine is safe and the most effective preventive measure available against cervical cancer. Achieving more than 80 per cent coverage of one-dose HPV vaccines will benefit more people, families, and communities in decades to come,” he said.

Soleine Scotney, country director of CHAI Cambodia, and Thabani Maphosa, managing director of country programmes delivery at Gavi, also spoke highly of this campaign against this deadly yet preventable disease aimed at leaving no girl behind.