In the quest to protect teenage girls against cervical cancer, human papillomavirus (HPV), and other related diseases, the Nigerian government has unveiled plans on introducing the Human Papillomavirus vaccines to girls between the ages of 9 – 15 years. This was made known through the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Mr. Faisal Shuaib during his speech at the bi-annual review meeting of religious leaders on PHC delivery in Abuja.
He said the agency will begin the rollout of the HPV vaccines on the 25th September, 2023 till 30th of September.
He spoke to all attendees on how cervical cancer have constantly affected the girl child till she becomes a woman, and also note that in its endeavours to reach every corner of the nation, the pivotal role of religious leaders cannot be overemphasized.
He said religious leaders possess the power to disseminate critical information that can influence behaviour, dispel myths and encourage preventive practice.
“In their roles as spiritual guides, they own the power to influence hearts and minds, and their words carry weight and inspire action,” he said.
He therefore urged all religious leaders to join hands with the medical community in championing the course of HPV vaccination nationwide. “By encouraging HPV vaccination within your congregations, you become advocates of life and guardians of health,” he said.
Also at the event, Mr. Emmanuel Odu, a Senior Special Adviser representing the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Muhammad Pate, said there is a need to constantly blend the spiritual with scientific knowledge and skills to address the country’s health challenges.
“Religious leaders surely have a role to play by helping to raise awareness in their congregations about the free HPV vaccines, dispelling various myths and misconceptions about the vaccine, and also try to encourage their members to embrace better health-seeking behaviours.
“I acknowledge the contributions of our faith community to healthcare delivery in the country, as we are aware that some of our religious organizations provide healthcare services at the primary, secondary and even tertiary healthcare level,” he said.
“This is most commendable, as I urge you to keep it up, as the government alone cannot do.”
Mr. Odu said this administration will change the narrative by making health care affordable and accessible to all Nigerians.
“We will, therefore, need the support of the faith community as we roll out the government’s agenda for the health of our people,” he said.
In collaboration with this new initiative, the President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and who also dubs as the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar III, said the government can count on traditional and religious leaders to deliver the right messages to the people.
The president said: “This forum will review all health issues, successes, failures, and what must be done.” “We are ready to do the needful, and the government can count on us – traditional and religious leaders because we believe in telling the people what the government is doing,” he said.
The National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Archbishop Daniel Okoh, noted that the PHC in Nigeria is beginning to get the kind of attention it deserves.
Mr. Okoh said religious leaders are also given the opportunity to dialogue by way of review about happenings in the health sector. He said even on health issues, many Nigerians still prefer to listen to their religious leaders before listening to their doctors or the government.
“Our places of worship have been used for sensitization, for administering vaccines, and our health facilities have been in collaboration with the government for a very long time now, especially for primary health care,” he said.
“With initiatives like this, we are optimistic that improved healthcare will be made accessible to those who before now have been far from it, especially those in the rural areas.”
HPV and Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer is a type of woman cancer that develops from abnormality in a woman’s cervix. It is the fourth most common cancer among women in the world today, that have caused over 311,000 deaths.
It has been estimated that more than 44 million women globally might develop cervical cancer between the year 2020 and 2069. And also, deaths from this disease will further increase by a whopping 50% by 2040, with many women and families being affected.
Although the causes of cancer are unknown, 14 out of the 100 types of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) strains have been identified to cause at least 99 per cent of cervical cancer cases.
According to WHO, HPV types 16 and 18 cause at least 70 per cent of cervical cancers and pre-cancerous cervical lesions.
WHO estimates that cervical cancer could be the first cancer to be eliminated if 90 per cent of girls are vaccinated against HPV, 70 per cent of women are screened, and 90 per cent of women with the disease receive treatment.
HPV Vaccination in Lagos, Nigeria
In collaboration with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) and Development Partners, the Lagos state government have started its campaign on Human Papillomavirus vaccination for all girls aged 9 – 14 years.
This was made known through a statement that was signed by the Permanent Secretary of the Lagos State Primary Health Care Board, Dr. Ibrahim Mustafa, disclosing that the vaccination starts on Monday 25th – Saturday 30th September, 2023 at various designated centers across the state.
These include community buildings such as schools, churches, mosques, primary health centers, hospitals, outreach posts, markets, gated estates, and other designated posts within the state.
He said “the Human Papillomavirus is a sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer and other HPV related diseases such as skin and vaginal warts”.
“According to the 2018 NDHS report, 19 percent of women initiate sexual intercourse by age 15 increasing the risk of HPV infection. The introduction of HPV vaccination for girls of the targeted age in Nigeria will potentially prevent 71,000 deaths annually if the target age group is reached”.
It is important to note that HPV vaccination at an early age is highly important as it provides the best protection to the girl child, with the objective of the HPV vaccination is to give all eligible girls injectable HPV vaccine intravenously through the arm. And if the target is achieved, the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria for girls of the targeted age may potentially avoid 71,000 deaths each year.
He also urged all parents, guardians, community leaders, pastors, and imams to sensitize their eligible girls to receive the vaccines during this campaign
During the HPV vaccination campaign, routine immunization services will be offered at the Primary Health Centers. The HPV vaccine is free, safe, and extremely effective.