HPV vaccination: Nigeria targets saving 16 million girls from cervical cancer

By Kemi Olatunde

In a bid to counter the spread of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Ondo State has introduced the HPV vaccine aimed at reaching girls in a five-day service programme by taking awareness campaigns to school outreach and communities (out-of-school girls, markets, social gatherings, religious houses, etc.).

The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is a safe and effective vaccine that protects against HPV infection. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the world and a leading cause of cervical cancer. 

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 was made available – Nigeria recorded 12000 new cases and 8000 deaths from cervical cancer.

According to findings, over 16 million girls could be protected in Nigeria alone by 2025.

HPV vaccination is critical to reducing cervical cancer, especially in lower-income countries with a high disease burden and less developed cervical cancer screening and treatment programmes. It is also a bridge to improve women’s and girls’ health through increased touchpoints with health services, and therefore an opportunity to positively impact gender equity.

After the five days exercise, routine vaccination is billed to commence in all health facilities across the state.

Permanent Secretary, of Ondo State Primary Health Care Development Agency (OSPHCDA), Dr. Francis Akanbiemu stated this during a state mobilization committee meeting on HPV in Akure.

Represented by the Deputy Director, of Disease Control and Immunisation, Dr (Mrs) Bunmi Osewole, he noted that it is important that stakeholders collaborate with the government to make the introduction of the new vaccine a great success.

In his presentation on basic facts about HPV, State Coordinator, of the Natural Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Mr. Adetunji Adeoye stated that with the support of a global fund, Gavin, Nigeria plans to introduce the nationwide vaccination to sustain the country’s focus on reducing morbidity and mortality due to the high burden of Cervical Cancer and the weak secondary and tertiary platforms to manage and treat cases.

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He explained that 38.7 percent of breast cancer cases are in women according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Listing the increasing cases of cervical cancer which can be prevented and the slow momentum of secondary and tertiary prevention and treatment options as justification for the vaccine introduction, he revealed that by the year 2030, 90 percent of girls should be fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age, adding that 70 percent of women should be screened using a high-performance test by age 35 and again by age 45.

Speaking extensively, Adeoye affirmed that it is a safe and effective way to prevent cervical cancer adding that achieving high coverage during the vaccination campaign among young adolescent girls helps reduce morbidity and mortality from cancer.

HPV consultant, Ondo State UNICEF, Mrs. Binta Audu noted that stakeholders play a multifaceted role in the introduction of the vaccine, encompassing advocacy, communication, mobilization, training, and monitoring, adding that their coordinated efforts are essential for achieving high coverage rates, reducing HPV related diseases promoting public health.

She noted that it is important for stakeholders to understand and implement their responsibilities to ensure a robust and effective exercise.

She called on stakeholders including the media, line Ministries, faith-based organisations, educational institutions, medical associations, community structures, and civil society organizations among others to do the needful, adding that medical associations should organize training programmes and workshops to enhance health professionals’ knowledge and skills related to the HPV.

She charged the media to utilize existing communication channels to provide accurate information on the vaccine, calling on all stakeholders to coordinate with other relevant ministries to ensure a comprehensive introduction approach.

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Social and behaviour change Specialist, UNICEF, Mrs. Aderinke Akinola-Akinwale while speaking on demystifying and debunking myths and conceptions around the HPV vaccines listed the spread of rumours, reduction of trust, hesitancy in uptake, rejections, increase in vaccine outbreaks preventable diseases as well as increased child morbidity and mortality as the effects of misconception.

She called on participants to stop the spread of misconceptions about the vaccine by responding with the correct messages and facts, adding that they should seek information from the right source.

Representative of Deji of Akure and Asae of Akure kingdom, High Chief Sola Adegbonmire pledged his support in ensuring a successful exercise.

State Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Father Anslem Ologunwa who stated that the association has taken the message of the vaccination to all the 18 Local Government areas of the state, stressed the need for all to work together to promote vaccine update and healthy society.

The HPV vaccine is most effective when given to girls and boys before they become sexually active, which is why it is recommended for girls aged 9-14 years old.

According to findings, HPV is a group of related viruses that can infect the genital area, mouth, and throat. It is transmitted through sexual contact. Most HPV infections do not have any symptoms and are clear on their own, but some can lead to serious health issues, including cancer.

The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to protect against HPV infection and HPV-related cancers.

The HPV vaccine was introduced into Nigeria in October 2023 with 16 states taking part in the first phase of the exercise.

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The second phase was planned for May 2024 in 21 states including Ondo State.

During the introduction in October last year, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Muhammed Ali Pate described as unacceptable the loss of about 8000 women yearly from a preventable disease.

“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. Saving lives, producing quality health outcomes, and protecting the well-being of Nigerians are central to the Renewed Health Agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. The onset of the vaccination campaign is an opportunity to safeguard our girls from the scourge of cervical cancers many years into the future.” He added.

“In our shared quest for a brighter future, the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria represents a monumental stride towards safeguarding our girls from the grips of cervical cancer. This vaccine doesn’t just prevent disease; it promises a life where our young women can thrive, unburdened by the specter of this grave health concern. UNICEF, in collaboration with the government and other partners, is proud to be a key partner in this initiative, ensuring that every eligible girl, irrespective of her location or circumstances, has access to this life-saving intervention. Together, we are scripting a narrative of hope, resilience, and a healthier Nigeria,” says Cristian Munduate, UNICEF Representative in Nigeria.

HPV vaccination: Nigeria targets saving 16 million girls from cervical cancer

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HPV vaccination: Nigeria targets saving 16 million girls from cervical cancer

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