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Ministry of Health under fire

Business

Accused of rolling the dice with young girls’ lives

Faces a loss exceeding M9 million

Ntsoaki Motaung

In a revelation sparking concerns, allegations are emerging that the Ministry of Health is risking the health of young girls by delaying the administration of the second dose of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine.

The government potentially faces a loss exceeding M9 million if prompt action is not taken to administer the crucial second dose to girls aged 9 to 14. The vaccine, valued at approximately M9 million, is set to expire within the next seven months.

Amidst the procurement of the vaccine, there remains a glaring absence of clear directives from the Ministry of Health regarding the timing for the administration of the second dose.

Confidential sources closely associated with the Ministry of Health who spoke to Newsday this week expressed concerns about both the financial implications and the potential risks to the girls’ health.

A pivotal worry is the inadequate protection provided to girls against cervical cancer without the second dose of the HPV vaccine. It is underscored that for comprehensive immunity, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the administration of two doses of the vaccine.

According to the sources, the vaccine was reintroduced in April 2022, with the initial dose administered to the first cohort of girls. However, a critical lapse occurred as the second dose, crucial for full immunity, was not administered in October of the same year as recommended by WHO guidelines.

Attributing the delay to internal conflicts and shifting priorities, the sources revealed that conflicting workplace dynamics and a lack of clear guidance within the Ministry of Health were responsible for the missed timeline.

The sources expressed that the introduction of the HPV vaccine into routine immunization further contributed to the delay, as initial priorities clashed with the new focus.

Notably, each vial of the HPV vaccine carries a substantial cost of around US$13. With the current vaccine stock nearing its expiration date in March of the upcoming year, the delay in administering the second dose puts a significant M9 million at risk.

The sources highlighted an additional concern: “We have girls that are not fully vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus and the most painful thing is that we are going struggle to find them because some of them are out of schools where we found them for their first dose.”

Former Minister of Health Semano Sekatle

If the second dose is not administered in a timely manner, these girls would remain as susceptible to health risks as those who had not received the vaccine at all. This vulnerability notably heightens the risk of cervical cancer among this group.

The sources pointed out: “We have girls that are not fully vaccinated against Human Papilloma Virus and the most painful thing is that we are going struggle to find them because some of them are out of schools where we found them for their first dose.”

‘Mamolise Falatsa, the Public Relations Manager for the Ministry of Health, acknowledged the ongoing preparations for the administration of the second dose, though she said details remained scant.

Former Minister of Health Semano Sekatle, during a press conference in September 2021, provided insight into the history of HPV vaccination in Lesotho.

Sekatle revealed the initial introduction of the vaccine in 2009, followed by its suspension in 2015 due to financial constraints. The vaccination resumed in 2022 for girls aged 9 to 14, following negotiations to reduce the vaccine cost.

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