Nigeria Targets Cervical Cancer Vaccine Protection for 7.7 million Girls

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By Adedapo Adesanya

Nigeria has started the introduction of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into its routine immunization system, aiming to reach 7.7 million girls in a drive against the virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

Girls aged 9–14 years will receive a single dose of the vaccine, which is highly efficacious in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18 that are known to cause at least 70 per cent of cervical cancers.

In Nigeria, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 44 years. In 2020, the latest year for which data is available, the country recorded 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from cervical cancer.

Speaking on this, Dr Muhammad Ali Pate, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, said the loss of about 8,000 Nigerian women yearly from a disease that is preventable is completely unacceptable.

“Cervical cancer is mostly caused by HPV, and parents can avoid physical and financial pain by protecting their children with a single dose of the vaccine,” he said.

“The onset of the vaccination campaign is an opportunity to safeguard our girls from the scourge of cervical cancers many years into the future. As a parent myself, I have four daughters, all of whom have had the same HPV vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer. I’d like to implore fellow parents to dutifully ensure that this generation of our girls disrupt the preventable loss of lives to cervical cancer in addition to other untold hardship, loss, and pain.”

A five-day mass vaccination campaign in schools and communities will be carried out during the inaugural rollout in 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The vaccine will then be incorporated into routine immunization schedules within health facilities. The second phase of the vaccination introduction is set to start in May 2024 in 21 states.

The vaccine is being provided for free by the Federal Ministry of Health through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency with support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners.

“This is a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s efforts to lower the burden of cervical cancer – one of the few cancers which can potentially be eliminated through vaccination,” said Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Representative in Nigeria.

Over 16 million girls could be protected in Nigeria alone by 2025 and to support these efforts in Nigeria and in line with its goal to build sustainable immunisation programmes, Gavi is co-financing the cost of the vaccines and providing technical support for the introduction.

With support from the WHO country office in Nigeria and other partners, over 35,000 health workers have so far been trained in preparation for the campaign and subsequent vaccine delivery in all health facilities.

Vaccination sites have been established in all 4163 wards across the 16 states included in the phase one rollout to ensure no eligible girl is left behind. Mobile vaccination units have also been set up to ensure that remote communities can access the vaccine.

UNICEF has procured nearly 15 million HPV vaccines on behalf of Nigeria. Alongside this, the children’s agency has produced informational materials, including radio and TV jingles in multiple local languages to dispel misinformation and rumours.

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