A letter to Ni Nyampingas

by Clarisse Gusenga

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Marie Paul, now 24, received the Human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine just like most girls in Rwanda. When she got vaccinated, there were many rumours and misunderstandings around the vaccine. But because her grandmother had died of cervical cancer, she really wanted to get the vaccine. Afterwards, Marie Paul asked herself if what was being said about the vaccine was true and soon came to understand that it wasn’t. What were those rumours? How did she discover they were untrue? Marie Paul answers those questions in this letter she wrote to all Ni Nyampinga.

Hello Ni Nyampinga!

I am very excited to write and tell you the truth about the HPV vaccine, and I truly believe that my story will clear up the confusion and motivate you to get the two doses of HPV vaccine.

When I was eight years old, my mother told me that my grandmother had died of cervical cancer. Since then, I kept asking myself about this type of cancer, its causes and how to prevent it. When I was at school, some nurses came to visit, and they told us that they were coming to vaccinate us against the virus that causes cervical cancer. I was happy because I felt that they were going to help me so I wouldn’t die of the same cause as my grandmother. I asked one of the nurses how the vaccine was going to help me, and she explained that the vaccine prevents us from getting the virus that causes the fatal cervical cancer.

The day after we got the first dose, my classmates started spreading rumours about the vaccine that they had heard from their families and communities. Some claimed the vaccine prevented Africans from having kids, and so any girl who got it would become infertile and unable to have children. This was also being said where I lived. Every person I told about getting vaccinated said I wouldn’t have kids. I got scared and wondered if it was true.

My mother reassured me that the vaccine didn’t have any negative side effects. When my mum supported me, I didn’t listen to hearsay and I went ahead and got all the doses. I talked to my friends about how dangerous cervical cancer is, and that it had killed my grandmother. Some listened to me, while others didn’t. When I was 22, I got pregnant and had no complications or illness. When it came time to deliver, everything went well and my baby was healthy. Today, my baby boy is two years old, and I haven’t faced any problems since his birth. Many of my childhood friends who also got the vaccine have since married and had children. They are all healthy and none experienced any bad side effects caused by the HPV vaccine.

To all Ni Nyampinga who are reading this, let me tell you that I have also learned that the vaccine is widely used in many countries across the world, and that it doesn’t have any side effects. Instead, it protects you. When you get it, you are still able to give birth. It’s possible you might not be able to give birth, but if this happens, it has nothing to do with the vaccine; it can be attributed to other health issues. Be brave and confident enough to take all doses of the vaccine and spread this news among your friends because it will protect you from this deadly cancer. I wish you a healthy life free from cervical cancer.

Marie Paul

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