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How Jade has helped young girls of today

The girls queue up quietly. They look resolute. They are waiting their turn. Nothing odd, schools vaccinate children all the time.

The difference is that this is voluntary. They have chosen to have the HPV, which has a 70 per cent chance of preventing cervical cancer. And there is not the usual minor hysterics, the giggling and shoving.

The reason is Jade Goody. These girls watched her being told she had cervical cancer on the telly - a cruel media coup. Then they saw her dominate the headlines, her bald head, her tears, her unfailing courage. Jade let the camera witness the reality of chemo, with fistfuls of hair falling off. She sat on the toilet weeping through the nausea.

There was the big wedding and the christenings as Jade stockpiled the cash to safeguard her little boys after she had gone, and finally there was the death on Sunday morning.

I have had friends die of cancer, and know how dreadful and painful this disease is. But these girls hadn't known. No one had dared tell them how awful it is. Even those who lost mothers or grandparents had been protected from the reality.

So now they know. It might not stop them smoking, or drinking, both factors thought to be carcinogenic. It might not stop them being promiscuous, a significant cause of cervical cancer.

This country has a disgracefully high rate of abortion. It has high rates of venereal disease. It has too many unplanned births, and too many girls who think that a baby will fill the void in their lives. It is frightening to think how many of these babies are inadequately parented.

Schools have carefully planned and taught social education courses, but none of them has had the impact on the youngster's behaviour that Jade has had.

There are now moves to give younger women cervical smears.

Teenagers do not fear death - nor should they. But at an age when they can be totally irresponsible, it is good to see them take this issue on board, and do the right thing.

We shouldn't need to wait until someone dies to ram the message home. While Jade had no intention of going gently into her good night, she was a remarkable role model to a generation of young women.

At least her death has not been in vain.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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