Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

HPV data fails to flag aboriginal girls

Lack of monitoring vaccinations troubling

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More girls in Manitoba are getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus that can cause cervical cancer.

However, nobody appears to be watching the vaccination rate on aboriginal communities despite rising concerns over cervical cancer rates for aboriginal women.

Manitoba Health statistics show 4,700 Grade 6 girls received the Gardasil vaccine during the 2009-2010 school year, a 16 per cent increase from the previous year.

But when asked for data on the vaccination rate for aboriginal girls, the federal and provincial governments funding and running vaccination programs against four strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) could not provide that information.

Health Canada said data is collected by the Manitoba Immunization Monitoring System (MIMS), including shots given on reserves. But Manitoba Health said MIMS does not record information based on ethnicity unless aboriginal girls declare their status. That means that neither the province nor Health Canada monitor vaccination rates on reserves.

"Health Canada ensures that on-reserve First Nations and Inuit outside the territories have access to all routine immunizations as per provincial immunization schedules, including the HPV vaccine, Gardasil," said a Health Canada spokesman. "All provinces have implemented HPV programs and are delivering these programs to First Nation girls living on reserve."

The lack of tracking of aboriginal vaccination rates comes at a time when researchers are discovering that aboriginal women are three times more likely to develop cervical cancer than other Canadians. They are four times more likely to die of the disease. And they may be susceptible to different strains: A recent study found that aboriginal women in northern Quebec were exposed to different strains of HPV than commonly found elsewhere in that province.

At an HPV conference in Montreal last summer, National Aboriginal Health Organization executive director Paulette Tremblay raised alarm bells about the lack of information on HPV immunization efforts among aboriginals and a lack of information about HPV and cervical-cancer prevention in aboriginal communities.

She concluded there is an HPV information gap for aboriginal girls. "(Education) depends on who you are and where you are," she said Thursday.

"These people are really very different. We don't have any national data available within the community itself."

What is genital HPV?

THE human papillomavirus includes many strains that cause common warts. Others are sexually transmitted and can cause genital disease. There are two types of genital HPV: Some strains are high risk and linked to cervical cancer; other strains are low risk and are linked to genital warts.

There's no cure for HPV, but screening through regular pap testing can help find abnormal cells that can be removed before they become cancerous.

Gardasil is a popular vaccine that is offered to Manitoba girls in Grade 6 to protect against four of the most common strains of HPV.

Condoms can reduce transmission risk of genital HPV, but because it is spread by skin-to-skin contact, there is still a risk of transmission.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 24, 2010 A4

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