St. Maarten AIDS Foundation commends govt on HPV vaccine for girls but strongly urge same for boys

The HPV vaccine program for girls recently announced by the Ministry of Public Health is a commendable initiative, according to the St. Maarten AIDS Foundation, a nonprofit active in the field of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). This program puts St. Maarten in step with other developed countries in protecting against preventable infections and their complications, notably cancer.


It would be even more effective if boys were to be included in the target group to be vaccinated, as boys are just as susceptible to HPV infections that could lead to long-term health consequences. HPV is responsible not only for 99% of cervical cancer in women, but also for penile, anal or throat cancers. Women can do a cervical smear to detect HPV, while men have no such equivalent test, leaving them vulnerable to undetected infections until the virus progresses to cancerous stages.

Sexually active women should also continue to do regular PAP smear tests to detect cancerous changes in the cervix. Early detected cervical cancer can be cured while late stage cervical cancer is more difficult to treat.

It should be noted as well that vaccination for HPV does not make a woman immune for all HPV types. There are more than 150 types of HPV of which some increase the risk for (cervical) cancer, others cause genital warts and some have no consequences. The vaccine currently introduced on St. Maarten protects against 2 of the most prevalent cancer-causing HPV strains and 2 strains that cause genital warts. However local research indicated that there are some other HPV strains circulating on St. Maarten that increase cancer risk but are not covered by the vaccine. So PAP smears continue to be important as an early detection tool, while vaccination will certainly reduce the future prevalence of HPV on our island.

Vaccinating boys would increase "herd immunity", whereby a high immunization rate among a population ultimately lowers infection risks even for non-immune people. The current issue is cost, and while it is understandable to target girls first, it is hoped that funding could be secured in the near future to vaccinate boys as well and achieve a greater immunization rate overall. St. Maarten would then be following the steps of the United States, Canada, and Australia in reducing HPV-related cancer burden in men, as well as contributing to an even further reduction of HPV-related cancer burden in women.

The AIDS Foundation encourages all parents to give their daughters consent for the vaccination program and become more informed about HPV, its consequences and the vaccine, so that they could better educate their sons and daughters. The Foundation would also like to remind readers that HPV is but one of the many STI’s that affect our society. Care should always be given when engaging in sexual activities, with consistent and correct condom usage, maintaining faithful relationships and frank discussions about sexual histories between partners as well as testing for STI’s.