Achieving Cervical Cancer-free Generation

Fourteen-year-old Miss Damillola John referred to her day of receiving the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine as one of her best moments ever.

To her, HPV is a killer virus; the only way to beat this virus, which can lead to cervical cancer is through the HPV vaccine. So, you can imagine how happy i was to get jabbed against the virus. The nurse told me that I am fully protected against the monster known as ‚cervical cancer,“ she stated.
Seeing the huge benefits of what a single dose of the HPV vaccine called Gardasil vaccine, could do, Miss John is therefore calling on parents to ensure their daughters aged nine to 14 get jabbed.

According to the United Nations Children‘s Fund, UNICEF’s health specialist Dr. Ijeoma Agbo, HPV is a widespread sexually transmitted infection that silently predisposes people to a number of malignancies, including cervical cancer.

Agbo, at a two-day media dialogue on HPV vaccine, disclosed that an estimate of 604,000 new cases of cervical cancer with 342,000 deaths occurred globally in 2020, while 12,075 cases and 7,968 deaths were recorded in Nigeria.

In an effort to address the high incidence of cervical cancer among women and girls in Nigeria, the medical expert affirmed that the widespread distribution of the HPV vaccine would eliminate or significantly lower the number of cases.

Recall that the federal government, on October 24, 2023 introduced the first phase of the HPV vaccine into the routine immunisation system, targeting over seven million nine to 14 girls, which is the largest number in a single round of HPV vaccination in the African region.

The first phase encompassed 16 states, including Abia, Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Enugu, Jigawa, Kano, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Osun, Taraba, and the Federal Capital Territory.
The second phase will encompass the remaining states – Borno, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Gombe, Imo, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Niger, Ondo, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara.

Agbo, disclosed that the HPV vaccine is intended for girls between the ages of nine and 14, while disclosing that the vaccine would ensure that the targeted girls do not get infected with cervical cancer.

The UNICEF health specialist, who noted that HPV vaccine is safe, effective, and cost-free, averred that there was an urgent need for all stakeholders to come together to sensitise Nigerians on its importance.
Seeing how important the HPV vaccine is to young girls, the officer in charge, UNICEF, Lagos, Mr Muhammad Okorie, said there was need to sensitise the public about the advantages of proven global interventions in the prevention of HPV through vaccination.

Okorie therefore tasked the media to raise public awareness of the HPV vaccine, through their reportage, while asking for greater cooperation from all stakeholders to ensure the immunization program‘s success.
In order to secure sufficient coverage and eradicate cervical cancer from the country, the communication officer at UNICEF, Lagos, Blessing Ejiofor, urged journalists to take an active advocacy role by using their networks to bring attention to the issue.

That is the only way we can ensure that the next generation of our young girls, do not suffer from cervical cancer,“ she added.

There is also the need for parents to take their girls aged nine to 14 years to any healthcare centres around them, and ensure they are jabbed with the HPV vaccine, immunisation programmes coordinator, Lagos State Primary Health Care Board (PHCB), Adetola Akinpelu told LEADERSHIP.

Akinpelu urged parents and guardians to ensure their daughters within the age bracket are jabbed, as the vaccine is safe and are given without cost at all public health facilities in Nigeria.

In Lagos state for instance, the immunisation coordinator averred that the state is targeting HPV vaccination of 1,062,427 girls, representing 80 per cent, between nine to 14 years by December 2024.
Akinpelu said the state had so far recorded success stories with the HPV vaccination campaign, as it has vaccinated 44.8 per cent of the targeted population.

He called on parents to ensure that their girls within the age bracket are vaccinated as soon as possible, adding that by 2025, the focus will be on girls aged nine only. „The Gardasil vaccine is expensive and out of the reach for most parents in Lagos. The state government is providing this vaccine free of charge. One of the reasons why Gardasil HPV vaccine was selected is the fact that it is a one dose vaccine that offers a life long protection,“ he affirmed.

He revealed that the HPV vaccination is still ongoing, adding that, „We are still vaccinating young girls aged nine to 14 years old. Though we no longer take the vaccine to schools or place of worship, but parents can bring their young girls to any public hospitals (Primary Healthcare Centres, Secondary and Tertiary Hospitals, including military and paramilitary health clinics) in Lagos state, to get jabbed against cervical cancer.

I am using this medium to appeal to parents to ensure they bring their girls before it‘s too late. We are hopeful that by the end of 2024, we would have vaccinated every young girls within the age bracket, thereby ensuring that, our next generation of girls will be cervical cancer-free“ he appealed.

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