ObGyn Residents Educate and Advocate for HPV Vaccine

Nov 13, 2018

ObGyn Residents at Robarts LibraryObGyn Residents at Robarts Library Written by: Dr. Emily Delpero, PGY3 with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

“Hey! Want to learn more about HPV as a sexually transmitted disease?”

A group of young doctors and medical students gathered in the lobby of Robarts Library on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 in front of a large table covered with speculums, cyto brushes, arts and crafts depicting the virus, and a large informative bristol board entitled “HPV?! Yeah you know me!”

This display represents a culmination of efforts by the U of T ObGyn residents as part of Cervical Cancer Awareness Week (October 15-19, 2018) and HPV Prevention Week (October 1-7, 2018), a yearly nation-wide Canadian initiative launched by the Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada (GOC) together with The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC). This initiative was launched to engage young physicians in the wider work of advocacy in women’s health, and with a specific focus on cancer care. The GOC-SOGC held a contest for resident doctors based on the creativity, scope and execution of their grassroots campaign.

For the U of T Advocacy Committee resident representatives (supervised by Dr. Rachel Spitzer and lead by 3rd and 4th year residents Dr. Emma Skolnik and Dr. Rebecca Zur) this included an open letter to Ontario's Health Minister Christine Elliott; a friendly information pamphlet for university students and other interested parties; and an interactive booth at the main library run during the heart of midterm season.

On October 1, 2018, the SOGC issued a galvanizing challenge to Canadian doctors and patients, calling for eradication of Cervical Cancer through prevention, regular screening and early treatment of pre-cancerous lesions.

“We wanted to engage as many as people as possible on a relevant issue that has a tangible solution,” says Dr. Emma Skolnik. The content of U of T’s campaign extended beyond cervical cancer to focus on its root cause – HPV – based off the data that 85% of all people (not just those with a cervix) will contract HPV throughout their lifetime.

The virus is highly contagious and can be transmitted by any form of sexual contact, with rates of transmission quoted as high as 40% per encounter. While the virus can be cleared spontaneously by its host, it is also directly linked to many forms of vaginal, penile, anal, and head and neck cancer. Fortunately, a vaccine exists which immunizes against the strains of the virus responsible for 90% of cervical cancers.

According to current Canadian medical guidelines, those eligible to receive the vaccine include women and men up to the age of 45 and 26, respectively. Since 2016 all middle-school youth now receive the vaccine funded by the Ontario government. However, it is not covered by UHIP or OHIP+ for those who – by nature of their age – missed that change in policy. This affects many undergraduate students who are vulnerable to the condition. Unfortunately, if it is not covered by private insurance, the vaccine costs between $400 and $600 out of pocket, which is a prohibitive expense for most.

“It’s an issue of access,” says Dr. Skolnik. While the change in policy in 2016 reflects a huge step towards eradication of HPV from the population, there is still a large gap full of those who came before the policy was instituted. How can we tackle these broad national goals? Our role is to educate and then to advocate.

“We have some catching up to do.”

As for the contest itself? The jury is still out.

Are you a doctor who agrees that that the HPV vaccine should be available to everyone? Click here if you would like to read and add your signature to the open letter addressed to Health Minister Elliott requested expansion of coverage to improve access to the HPV vaccine.

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