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A production issue has caused Merck to distribute less HPV vaccines.

FG Begins HPV Vaccination of 7.7 Million Girls Against Cervical Cancer

Nigeria has officially begun introducing the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into the immune system of 7.7 million girls to fight against cervical cancer.

The exercise which got underway yesterday, at Aso Villa in Abuja, would have girls between the ages of 9 and 14 years administered with a single round of HPV vaccination in a vaccination drive against the virus that causes nearly all cases of cervical cancer.

As part of the vaccine rollout, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Country Office in Nigeria, said young girls aged 9–14 years would 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 WHO said cervical cancer was the third most common cancer and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 44 years in Nigeria.

Quoting the latest data as of 2020, the WHO noted that Nigeria recorded 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from cervical cancer.

The Coordinating Minister of Health & Social Welfare, Muhammad Ali Pate, said the loss of about 8,000 Nigerian women yearly from a disease that was preventable was completely unacceptable.

“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 wellbeing of Nigerians are central to the Renewed Health Agenda of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu,” he added.

Pate said the vaccination campaign was 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, and all of them have had the same HPV vaccine to protect them against cervical cancer. ’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.”

The Minister said the five-day mass vaccination campaign in schools and communities would be carried out during the inaugural rollout in 16 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

He said the vaccine would then be incorporated into routine immunisation schedules within health facilities.

Pate said the second phase of the vaccination introduction was set to start in May 2024 in 21 states.

According to the Minister, the HPV vaccine was 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), WHO and other partners.

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Speaking at the event, WHO Representative in Nigeria, Dr. Walter Kazadi Mulombo, said: “With support from the 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 4163 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.

“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 to increase access to the HPV vaccine to protect the health and well-being of the next generation of women.”

According to Mulombo, WHO recommended that HPV vaccination be included in the national immunisation programmes of countries where cervical cancer was a public health priority, and where its cost-effective and sustainable implementation is feasible.

He said Nigeria had prioritised the addition of the vaccine to the country’s routine immunisation schedule.

“Global supply shortages have slowed Gavi-supported vaccine introductions. These supply issues are now easing thanks to years of market-shaping efforts to develop a more robust HPV vaccine market and the single dose recommendation. “Recognising this critical opportunity to reach more girls with higher levels of global HPV vaccine supply and renewed momentum towards accelerating efforts to prevent cervical cancer, the Gavi board approved the revitalisation of its HPV vaccine programme with an investment of over US$ 600 million by the end of 2025.”

Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi, Thabani Maphosa, said the body was co-financing the cost of the vaccines and providing technical support for the introduction of the HPV vaccines and to build sustainable immunisation programmes.

“With the additional funding, Gavi and its partners have set an ambitious goal to reach over 86 million girls by 2025, aiming to avert over 1.4 million future deaths from cervical cancer. 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”.