As school health teams get underway with the country's third annual human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination drive, Northern Cape public meetings aim to convince sceptical caregivers that the jab may be the best shot young girls have at preventing cervical cancer.
Margaret Marumo, 74, looks after her granddaughter. Marumo said she was initially hesitant to let her granddaughter be vaccinated against HPV as part of the Department of Health's school-based vaccination programme.
"I was afraid this injection would make my grandchild feel free to be sexually active at a very young age," she said. Marumo added that a recent public dialogue held in the Kuruman area helped her understand the vaccine's benefits, and why it was important to vaccinate children before they became sexually active and were exposed to the cancer-causing virus.
The public dialogues are aimed at helping the National Department of Health increase uptake of the vaccine, which was first rolled out nationally in 2014.
According to Department of Health Spokesperson Joe Maila, more than 340,000 Grade 4 school girls nine years and older have been vaccinated against the virus annually since 2014.
However, the department has fallen about 60,000 girls short of their targeted 100 percent vaccination rate.
"This was mostly children forgetting to bring consent forms to school or who were absent," Maila said. "We think getting to 340,000 is quite successful. We are hoping that eventually it will be 100 percent."
The HPV vaccine helps protect girls from the two strains of HPV responsible for about 70 percent of all cervical cancers. School health teams are currently vaccinating Grade 4 girls in the country's poorest 80 percent of public schools against HPV. The girls will receive the vaccine's second required dose in September and October.