Nigeria rolls out vaccination programme for 7.7 million girls against cervical cancer

Nigeria on Tuesday, launched the immunisation programme of 7.7 million girls against the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which is the largest number of girls in Africa to receive the vaccine in a single round.

In a coordinated statement released on Tuesday, the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that the goal of the initiatives is to combat the virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

The vaccine injection would be administered to girls from ages 9–14 years and 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.

The international donors announced that a five-day mass immunisation campaign in schools and communities will be part of the initial rollout of the vaccine initiative, which will start in 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

It was also said that the vaccination would subsequently be a part of routine immunisation programmes in medical facilities. It further stated that 21 states would begin to implement the second phase of the vaccine programme in May 2024.

It said over 16 million girls could be protected with the injections in Nigeria alone by 2025.

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 8000 deaths from cervical cancer.

“The loss of about 8000 Nigerian women yearly from a disease that is preventable is completely unacceptable,” says Muhammad Ali Pate, the Coordinating Minister of Health & Social Welfare said.

“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, and producing quality health outcomes and protecting the wellbeing 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. As a parent myself, I have four daughters, all of them 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.”

Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Representative in Nigeria said, “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,”

“We’re committed to supporting the government increase access to the HPV vaccine to protect the health and well-being of the next generation of women.”

“Every day, cervical cancer inflicts profound loss and devastation on families across Nigeria. It also disproportionately impacts the lives of women. And yet, it is a disease that can be prevented.

“With the HPV vaccine now available in Nigeria for eligible adolescent girls at no cost, communities now have the most effective tool to fight cervical cancer and the nation has an opportunity, collectively to save millions of lives,” says Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi.

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