Nigeria, 10 November 2023 (TDI): Nigeria has taken a significant step in combating cervical cancer by launching a vaccination initiative targeting 7.7 million girls.

Cervical cancer is a major health concern, ranking as the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among Nigerian women aged 15 to 44.

In 2020 alone, the country reported 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from this disease. The vaccination program incorporates the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into the routine immunization system.

The vaccine specifically targets HPV types responsible for at least 70 percent of cervical cancers.

Muhammad Ali Pate, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, stressed the preventable nature of the disease, underscoring the importance of parents ensuring their daughters receive the vaccine.

Under the new protocol, girls aged 9 to 14 will receive a single dose of the highly effective vaccine. A five-day mass vaccination campaign across 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory will precede the vaccine’s inclusion in routine immunization schedules.

Over 35,000 health workers have been trained, and mobile vaccination units are deployed to reach remote communities.

This initiative is seen by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a pivotal moment to reduce the burden of cervical cancer, with the second phase scheduled for May 2024 in additional states.

The vaccine, provided at no cost by the Federal Ministry of Health with support from partners like Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, and the WHO, aims to address the challenges of cervical cancer in Nigeria.

Global supply shortages have previously impacted vaccine introductions, but efforts to enhance the HPV vaccine market and the WHO’s single-dose recommendation are alleviating supply issues.

Recognizing the opportunity to prevent cervical cancer, Gavi’s board has approved over $600 million in investment by the end of 2025, with the goal of reaching over 86 million girls and averting 1.4 million future deaths.

UNICEF has procured nearly 15 million HPV vaccines for Nigeria and is actively combating misinformation through informational materials in local languages.

Despite these positive efforts, misinformation and disinformation pose challenges to the success of the immunization program.

False claims regarding the vaccine’s safety, efficacy, and alleged links to infertility have led to some parents withholding consent, particularly in rural areas.

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UNICEF, in collaboration with community and religious leaders, is actively addressing misinformation through informational materials and supporting preparedness assessments.

Gynecologist Subomi Olatunji emphasized the importance of dispelling myths, clarifying that there is no connection between the HPV vaccine and infertility in women.

Early vaccination is crucial to preventing cervical cancer, and the government must conduct awareness programs through community and religious leaders, while the media plays a role in accurate fact-checking to guide public perception.