From April, all female Secondary 1 students who are Singapore residents will be offered free vaccination to protect them against cervical cancer as part of the national school-based health programme.
About 200 women get the cancer each year and 70 die from it, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Wednesday (March 6).
The vaccine protects women against the most common strains of the human papillomavirus which primarily causes cervical cancer but also vulva, vaginal and anal cancers.
As a one-time catch-up, the offer will be progressively extended to girls who are Singaporeans and permanent residents and currently studying in secondary school. Those of similar age studying in private educational institutes will also be offered the fully-subsidised vaccination. This is an opt-in scheme.
The Government has put aside $10 million for this year, and $2.5 million annually from next year.
Depending on the vaccine used and the age of the person, the cost ranges from about $300 to more than $700 for the full course of two or three doses. Girls 14 years and younger need only two doses while those who are older need three.
Up to $400 from Medisave can be used for two of the HPV vaccines, for females between the ages of nine and 26 years.
More than 70 countries, including Brunei and Malaysia, have included the HPV vaccine in their national immunisation programme.
Women who have had the vaccine will still need to go for regular Pap smear tests to check for cervical cancers, since the vaccine does not protect against all strains.
The most commonly used vaccine today protects against the four more common strains. A newer vaccine by the same company protects against five additional strains.
The ministry also announced that it will be adopting a more accurate cervical cancer test which will allow women to test every five years – instead of three.
This is part of the MOH’s move to increase disease prevention so as to reduce the strain on healthcare services down the line.
Another change in this direction is to introduce non-fasting blood tests for diabetes and cholesterol. From May, these tests will be available at the more than 1,000 Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) GP clinics.
This way, the doctors would be able to recommend, and immediately carry out, such tests instead of getting the person to come back another day with his stomach empty.
Under Screen for Life, such tests are free for the Pioneer Generation, and cost $2 for Chas cardholders. From Nov 1, the Merdeka Generation will also pay $2. All other Singaporeans pay $5.
Dr Khor said women who had gestational diabetes, and are therefore at higher risk of getting diabetes, will be automatically eligible for subsidised screening without needing to take the risk assessment test.
To cut the risk of cardiovascular diseases, the MOH plans to ban partially hydrogenated oils (PHO), which is a key source of artificial trans fat.
This is a step further than the 2 per cent limit of PHO in fats and oils introduced in 2013. That has reduced daily trans fat intake from 2.1g in 2010 to 1g last year.
The ban will also apply to all repackaged food, like noodles and cookies.
Mr Amrin Amin, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health, said the ban “should not have an adverse effect on Singaporeans’ food options and cost”.
Text: Salma Khalik / The Straits Times / March 2019