Savitha and Sanjna: Making An Informed Choice
Taking the safe and effective HPV vaccine to prevent cervical cancer
January 2020 – Savitha Mallapa lives with her family in Bengaluru city. She’s an entrepreneur and a mother to two teenagers who keep her busy. Like any mother, she worries about her children and wants to take every opportunity to protect them from harm. So when Savitha heard that an HPV vaccine might protect her daughter from future cancer, she wanted to know more about it.
“It first came up in an extended family conversation, as we’ve got a lot of teenagers at home. We had heard it’s quite popular amongst parents in the US, but nobody knew much about the vaccine in India,” said Savitha.
As any tech-savvy parent would do, she went online and read up on the HPV vaccine. There was a lot of information on Indian websites, but she didn’t find anything that simply stated the scientific facts to help her decide. She then reached out to the gynecologists and pediatricians she knew. The result was unexpected.
“I was surprised that the doctors seemed to know very little about it,” she noted. The HPV vaccine was not widely available in the city and many medical professionals were either unaware of the vaccine or lacked the information about safety and efficacy that Savitha sought.
So she reached out to a trusted source and friend who works in the area of cancer prevention. That’s how she learned that the HPV vaccine is highly effective and safe.
“I found out that the HPV vaccine not only prevents cervical cancer, but can help prevent 5 other types of cancers too,” she pointed out.
Savitha knew that she had made the right choice by doing more research around the HPV vaccine, despite first having trouble finding reliable information within the Indian context. Having this information gave her courage to speak to her daughter Sanjna about it. Her daughter was immediately supportive.
“It was a no brainer for me, as my mother explained the benefits to me… It’s like any other vaccination honestly, and since we already take a bunch of these as kids why would I be afraid of another one that actually protects me from something as serious as cervical cancer,” said young Sanjna.
Over a period of six months, Sanjna received two injections of the HPV vaccine. She felt no fear or hesitation and experienced no side effects.
“The whole experience has been very normal for me,” noted Sanjna.
She added that she knows she’s very fortunate to have a mother who was able to access facts and make an informed choice on her behalf for her health and well-being. But it may not be the same for her peers. Therefore, she took it upon herself to educate and inform her friends about the importance of the HPV vaccine.
“I’ve spoken to my friends and shared all the research and information that my mother had, so they can talk to their parents and let them know why it’s critical for them to take this vaccine on time,” Sanjna added.
Both mother and daughter are doing their bit by sharing their own experience about the HPV vaccine within their network of family and friends.
“Our biggest challenge in making a decision about this was getting accurate information around the vaccine. And I feel it’s our responsibility that once we’ve got access to the information, we must share it with others,” added Savitha.
“I think it’s important to go beyond the clutter and controversy and stick to the facts and science behind the benefits of the HPV vaccine. The fact that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends it validates how important it is for our children.”
Savitha and Sanjna made an informed and timely choice to prevent cervical cancer, and have taken a step beyond by becoming advocates in their own community to build awareness about the HPV vaccine.
Faces of Hope India is a joint project of the American Cancer Society and TogetHER for Health