Student Awareness Event for Life Saving HPV Vaccine


Students sit in circles the activity and engage in a discussion moderated by QMSC volunteers. Photo credit: Saad Ejaz.

A movie screening and panel discussion on the human papilloma virus was hosted by the Qatar Medical Students Association in the HBKU Student Center on Feb. 24.

HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that is responsible for causing almost 70 percent of cervical cancers among women, according to the World Health Organization. In 2018, cervical cancers claimed the lives of roughly 311, 000 women worldwide and became the second most common cancer in undeveloped countries. According to the HPV Information Center, 447, 298 women in Qatar are at risk of being infected with HPV. Unlike other cancers however, the risk of cervical cancer can be greatly reduced by vaccinating against HPV.

“Cervical cancer is currently the only known cancer to be caused by a virus that is preventable through vaccination,” said Abdullah Tom, an organizer of the event and the national public health officer at the Qatar Medical Students Association. The screening and discussion were organized by QMSA to raise awareness about HPV and encourage as many students in Education City to get vaccinated.

Tom leads a game of jeopardy to test participants on their HPV knowledge. Photo credit: Mohammad Zulqurnain Haider.

Part of HPV’s potency is that those infected show no symptoms. The first time HPV might be discovered is when someone is diagnosed with cancer, said Dr. Osman Ortashi, a panelist and senior consulting gynecologist at Sidra Medical and Research Center. Anyone who is sexually active is at risk and thus it is important to educate the public about it, he added.

While a vaccine for HPV became available in 2006, the Middle East has been reluctant in introducing it as part of routine vaccination, said Ortashi. Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health has only recently announced its intentions to introduce the vaccine in April 2019.

“There’s a lot of people that may come and say that this [vaccine] is religiously not acceptable, culturally not unaccepted,” said Ortashi. They fear that the vaccine may promote pre-marital sex among teenagers, he added.  However, a 2013 study conducted by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found no link between HPV vaccinations and an increase in sexual activity among women between the ages of 18 and 32.

The vaccine is available in private hospitals but at a whopping price of 1,500 QAR for two doses, according to Otrashi. He said that when the government launches the vaccine in its public health program, subsidies should lower the price considerably. Until then, the price can discourage many.

The event was part of a two-stage campaign to increase awareness of the vaccine in Qatar. At this stage, the focus is on educating and recreating students to become ambassadors for the vaccine awareness campaign. These ambassadors would create social media content and volunteer at mall booths for the cause, Tom said. The second stage would be a nationwide campaign nearer to the launch date of the vaccine in April and would include the Ministry of Public Health, Sidra and Hamad Medical Cooperation.

Developing a nationwide campaign that is educational but culturally sensitive is difficult. To address this, the organizers of the event divided the audience in teams and asked each group to brainstorm ideas for the campaign in 20 minutes.

“We quickly realized that there was so much debate within our small groups on how to brand the campaign,” said Rahma El-Deeb, a participant in the event and journalism sophomore at Northwestern University in Qatar. “It really made me understand how complex communicating something that is so important can be.”

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