Experts have stressed the paramount importance of thorough monitoring; while Nigeria and other Sub-Saharan African nations work to catch up in Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates. Their focus is on leaving no girl behind in the battle against HPV-related diseases.
In Nigeria, about 7.7 million girls are targeted for shots in a determined effort to increase Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination rates.
These experts emphasise that this comprehensive strategy involves not only the careful tracking of HPV vaccine distribution but also the evaluation of the effectiveness of public awareness campaigns.
“In as much as HPV can be and often transmitted sexually, we are dealing here with the problem of cancer which we want to eliminate, especially cervical cancer because we must acknowledge other different kinds of cancers,” said Mosa Moshabela, a professor of public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) in South Africa.
Moshabela, who spoke on barriers to successful implementation of HPV vaccination programs in sub-Saharan Africa during a virtual media briefing with the theme “Progress Towards HPV Vaccination in Sub-Saharan Africa,” organised by Merck Sharp and Dohme( MSD) stated, “We have a vaccine that can be used for primary prevention. It is important to delve into some of the challenges that countries have in adopting the vaccine programme.
“One concern that we have is that cervical cancer affects all countries, and it is preventable, so it is important to introduce programs. Once a country has adopted a program, then the challenge is how to increase the stage of that program, which is about coverage. There is a need to increase the coverage of vaccination as much as possible.”
According to him: “Sometimes we tend to focus a lot on the supply side, but when we get the vaccine, we need to assess the impacts and outcomes of our work, which involves evaluating how effectively we are getting the vaccine into the target population’s arms. This underscores the necessity of evaluation and research to assess the effectiveness of our strategies.
“However, these strategies need to be customized to address specific areas within countries, programs, and implementations, which serve as the entry point. It is crucial to study the content and interventions,” Moshabela said.
In Nigeria, girls are offered the vaccine between the ages of 9–14, which is highly efficacious in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18 which are known to cause at least 70% of cervical cancers. The vaccine has also been offered to boys since 2019, with the HPV vaccine now available in Nigeria; about 7.7 million girls are targeted for vaccination.
“Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women in Nigeria, our focus is to make this voluntary; there are not enough of these vaccines, and those who choose not to receive it, they are making a mistake for their children because they are exposing them to the risk of having diseases,” said Ali Pate, coordinating minister of Health and Social Welfare “the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine is safe for girls and serves as a lifelong prevention against cervical cancer.”
HPV prevalence is notably high in sub-Saharan Africa at an average of 24 percent, posing a challenge to the World Health Organisation’s target of vaccinating 90 percent of girls within the age of 15 by 2030.
Also commenting, Tene-Alima Essoh, regional director, Agence de Medicine Preventive (AMP) Afrique said that HPV infection is a significant global health burden.
She noted: “One person per minute is diagnosed with a certain HPV-related cancer each year. In women, persistent infection with oncogenic HPV types may lead to cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) which, if untreated, may progress to invasive cervical cancer.
“Effective primary HPV vaccination and secondary prevention approaches of screening for, and treating precancerous lesions will prevent most cervical cancer cases.
“When diagnosed, cervical cancer is one of the most successfully treatable forms of cancer, as long as it is detected early and managed effectively. With a comprehensive approach to prevent, screen, and treat, cervical cancer can be eliminated as a public health problem within a generation,” Essoh said.