A national vaccination campaign to prevent cervical cancer in women was launched today, targeting thousands of Grade Four schoolgirls.
Read more: What are the causes of cervical cancer?
"South Africa is today one of the very few countries in the continent to provide this vaccine to all Grade Four girls in public schools," said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi at the Gonyane Primary School in Bloemfontein.
"Certainly we are the first in the continent to target so many girls, close to 500 000."
Read: What you need to know about HP vaccination in SA
Worse in developing countries
Motsoaledi said it was mostly women in developing countries who bore the heaviest burden and suffered the most from the disease.
The severity, complications, human suffering, and loss of life from the disease were worse in developing countries.
This was due to poorly resourced infrastructure, limited access to early screening, treatment, and the management of complications.
Referring to the group of nine-year-old girls to be vaccinated, Motsoaledi said it was to protect them from cervical cancer in 20 years' time.
"I want to say that I am so proud of you for being so strong and brave. We thank you and your parents for allowing us to vaccinate you today.”
Motsoaledi said the vaccinations were an investment not only in the girls' health, but in the health of a future generation of women.