In response to media attention surrounding a “mystery illness” that has left over 200 girls in a small Colombian town hospitalized since May, Colombia’s President Santos said it was probably just a case of “mass hysteria.”
Over 200 girls have been hospitalized after losing consciousness and suffering severe abdominal pain in the town of El Carmen, Bolivar since May, creating widespread panic about an HPV vaccine (a preventative measure against cervical cancer) that they had recently been injected with, according to Colombia’s El Pais newspaper.
“We have invested $100 million into this vaccination program (…) We are the leading country in vaccinating children. It contributes toward equality and public health so that the poor have the same opportunities as the rich,” said President Santos.
In addition to President Santos’ staunch denial of the link between the vaccine and the increasing rates of hospitalization, the Ministry of Health has responded vigorously by emphasizing the safety of the vaccine, and reminding the public that cervical cancer kills 3,300 Colombian women every year. Nearly three million girls have received the vaccine in Colombia, which is intended to reduce the 6,800 new cases reported each year. Worldwide, more than 170 million doses of the HPV vaccine have been administered.
However, parents and teachers in El Carmen,Bolivar have witnessed first-hand the devastating effects of the illness whose cause is yet unknown, according to newspaper, El Tiempo.
“There are girls who have lost up to eight kilos [18 lbs]. Almost none can finish a full day and academic performance has dropped markedly,” said Cristina Trujillo Grove, principal of a local school where more than 23 students have contracted the illness.
Leanis Salcedo, whose four daughters have contracted the illness, this week had had to carry three, unconsciousness, to the hospital.
“Who is responsible for my daughters? They have not even given us proper treatment. I don’t ask for money and I do not want them to give me anything; all I want is to see [my daughters] healthy. Is that too much to ask?” said Salcedo.
There are fears that the number of affected will increase as 2,700 girls in total have been injected with the vaccine.