THE Nigerian Government has introduced the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into its routine immunization system.
Consequently, the country aims to vaccinate 7.7 million girls against the virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.
The figure translates to the largest number in a single round of HPV vaccination in the African region, according to a statement jointly released by the World Health Organisation and United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), on Tuesday, October 24.
Girls between nine and 14 years will receive a single dose of the vaccine, which global health institutions endorsed as highly efficacious in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18 that are known to cause at least 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
Cervical cancer, mostly caused by high-risk HPV infection through sexual contact, primarily affects the cervix and accounts for 99 per cent of cases.
In Nigeria, it’s the third most prevalent cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women aged 15-44, as there were 12,000 cases and 8,000 deaths reported in 2020, according to WHO and UNICEF.
The Coordinating Minister of Health & Social Welfare Ali Pate, while also confirming the development via his X handle said, “Saving lives and producing quality health outcomes and wellbeing of Nigerians are central to the Renewed Health Agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.”
He also noted that the loss of about 8,000 Nigerian women yearly from a preventable disease is “completely unacceptable.”
According to the statement by WHO and UNICEF, 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 statement added that the vaccine would subsequently be incorporated in routine immunization schedules within health facilities.
The second phase of the vaccination introduction is expected 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, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners.
“With support from 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 4,163 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,’ the statement added.
Also, WHO Representative in Nigeria Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said that the development was a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s efforts to lower the burden of cervical cancer, a type of cancer which can potentially be eliminated through vaccination.
He further noted that the WHO was committed to supporting the government to increase access to the HPV vaccine to protect the health and well-being of the next generation of women in the country, adding that HPV vaccination should be included in the national immunization programmes of countries where cervical cancer is a public health priority.
According to the statement, Global vaccine shortages have hindered Gavi-supported vaccine introductions, but recent efforts to strengthen the HPV vaccine market and a single-dose recommendation are alleviating these supply issues.
While recognising the recent development, the Gavi board approved a revitalization of its HPV vaccine program with a $600 million investment by the end of 2025. This funding aims to reach more than 86 million girls by 2025, potentially preventing over 1.4 million future deaths caused by cervical cancer.
The statement added that over 16 million girls could be protected in Nigeria alone by 2025 with the latest support from Gavi.
In the same vein, UNICEF revealed that it had procured nearly 15 million HPV vaccines on behalf of the Nigerian Government and had produced informational materials, including radio and TV jingles in multiple local languages to dispel misinformation and rumours, among others.