HPV Vaccine in the Middle EastGlobalization opens up channels to foreign cultural trends and facilitate the free exchange of ideas between populations of different countries. Youth in more religiously and culturally conservative regions of the world are particularly influenced by foreign representations of sexual intercourse in pop culture. Tackling problems surrounding the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa is becoming more of an issue as young people are beginning to experiment more with sex but without the preventive measures taken by other countries to confront sexually transmitted diseases and the long-term consequences of exposure.

Regional Barriers to Preventive Measures

Since many people in the Middle East and North Africa associate the immunization of adolescents with STI-preventing vaccines with the presumption that adolescents are seeking sexual intercourse, religiously strict societies of this region fail to implement preventive sexual health measures such as HPV vaccinations and cervical cancer screenings. Common understanding suggests that these societies view the HPV vaccine as an infringement on long-standing cultural and religious practices and a foreign intrusion on regional values. However, this perception is largely shaped by key religious leaders and politicians who regulate public discourse and are viewed as possessing the authority to distinguish between what is morally right and wrong. In fact, contributors working on behalf of the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal have discovered that most families in the Middle East and North Africa display an acceptance of STI-preventing vaccines and educative initiatives promoting sexual health.

Public View on the HPV Vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa

A study published by WHO in 2017 examined 18 studies pulled from the PubMed and Embase databases dated between January 2010 and April 2017 to ascertain the prevalence of the HPV vaccine in the countries composing the Arab World. The selected studies interviewed various groups and subgroups of national populations, including adolescent men and women, young men and women, women of various age groups, healthcare professionals and parents. Among a variety of questions probed were knowledge of the existence of an HPV vaccine and awareness of the causal link between HPV and cervical cancer. The question limited to this report address general acceptance of the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa.

The results were promising. Considering the religious composition of the Arab World, the non-secular identities of political bodies in Arab countries and the influence of religion on policymaking, 99 percent of Egyptian women, 91.3 percent of Bahraini women and 89.9 percent of Saudi women were accepting of the HPV vaccine. Rates of acceptability among women tended to be high in most Arab countries, although the lowest incidence was recorded by a study of Emirati women which showed an acceptability rate of 46 percent. The average acceptability rate for university men in the United Arab Emirates was 46 percent and a 2015 study in Morocco showed that 76.8 percent of mothers and 68.9 percent of fathers approved of immunizing their children with the HPV vaccine.

Promoting the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa

The national health organizations of many countries in the region are promoting an open discourse about sexual health and advocating for the institutionalization of vaccinations in public facilities such as schools. Cervical cancer remains among the top ten leading causes of death among women in Arab countries. Meanwhile, Israel possesses one of the lowest rates in the world. This could be due to the institutionalized vaccination system in the Israeli school system. However, Baruch Velan, a vaccination compliance researcher at the Gertner Institute for Health Policy and Epidemiology in Israel, cites that the HPV vaccine compliance rate is higher in the Arab population than in the Jewish population in Israel. Why Israel has such low rates of cervical cancer, especially compared to other countries in the region, is unknown.

The changing views toward the HPV vaccine in the Middle East and North Africa shows that there is hope to increase vaccinations and decrease rates of cervical in the region.

– Grayson Cox
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