Nigeria has introduced the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into its immunisation programme with the aim of vaccinating 7.7 million girls—the largest number of girls in Africa to receive a single HPV vaccination round.
In a joint statement issued on Tuesday by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the donors stated that their efforts are aimed at fighting the virus responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer.
According to the report, girls aged 9–14 years will receive a single dose of the vaccine, which is highly effective in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18, known to cause at least 70 per cent of cervical cancers.
The international organisation stated that the first phase of the vaccination programme will commence in 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory, including a five-day mass immunisation campaign in schools and communities. The vaccine will subsequently be integrated into regular immunisation schedules in healthcare facilities. The second phase of vaccination introduction is set to begin in May 2024 in 21 states.
According to the statement, over 16 million girls in Nigeria alone could be protected with the injections by 2025.
In Nigeria, cervical cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged 15 to 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.
In his remarks, Muhammad Ali Pate, the coordinating minister of health and social welfare, said the increasing death toll of Nigerian women, approximately 8,000 yearly, is preventable.
“The loss of about 8,000 Nigerian women yearly from a preventable disease is completely unacceptable,” Mr Pate was quoted as saying in the statement.
“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 President Bola Tinubu’s Renewed Health Agenda.
“The onset of the vaccination campaign is an opportunity to safeguard our girls from the scourge of cervical cancer for many years into the future. As a parent myself, I have four daughters, all of whom have received the same HPV vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer.
The minister implored parents to do their part to ensure that this generation of our daughters avoids preventable loss of life to cervical cancer, as well as other untold misery, loss, and pain.
“This is a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s efforts to reduce the burden of cervical cancer, one of the few cancers that can potentially be eliminated through vaccination,” said Dr Walter Kazadi Mulombo, WHO Representative in Nigeria.
“We’re committed to supporting the government in increasing access to the HPV vaccine to protect the health and well-being of the next generation of women.”
The World Health Organisation advises that HPV vaccination be included in national immunisation campaigns in countries where cervical cancer is a public health priority and when cost-effective and sustainable implementation is feasible.
“Every day, cervical cancer inflicts profound loss and devastation on families across Nigeria. It also disproportionately affects women’s lives. Yet, it is a preventable disease. With the HPV vaccine now available in Nigeria for eligible adolescent girls at no cost, communities have the most effective tool to fight cervical cancer, and the nation has an opportunity to collectively save millions of lives,” says Thabani Maphosa, managing director of country programmes delivery at Gavi.”