Despite being a preventable disease, the burden of cervical cancer is rapidly growing in Nigeria. This life-threatening illness has continued to claim women’s lives, taken substantial toll on their health and monetary resources because of lack of access to affordable treatment, and continuous decline in the uptake of life-saving vaccines.
The increase in the incidence of the disease is due to key factors which include limited vaccination of girls against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), inadequate information on cervical cancer screening programmes for early detection as well as untreated early cancerous changes in the cervix.
If the federal government takes the above-mentioned into consideration, then these public health measures can go a long way to forestall precancerous changes to the cervix and reduce the chances of developing cervical cancer.
It has been posited globally that cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women, and comes after breast cancer in Nigeria. Also, it is the most prevalent female reproductive cancer in the country, and is primarily caused by infection with one or more of the high-risk types of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) – a Sexually Transmitted Infection.
Some of the risk factors of developing cervical cancer are early sexual Intercourse, early marriage, multiple sexual partners, continuous exposure to Sexually Transmitted Infections (STls), and smoking, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or other Immunosuppression.
Although Immunization programmes are primarily centered on babies, earlier studies have shown that when pre-teens (between ages 9 and 12) are vaccinated, it can prevent up to 90 per cent of HPV-related cancers later on in life.
As of 2020, less than a quarter of developing countries have introduced the HPV vaccine into their national immunization schedules, while more than 85 percent of developed countries have done so. Similar disparities are also observed in the establishment of cervical cancer screening programmes, a report according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The WHO global target focuses on three key pillars which include preventing cervical cancer through widely distributed HPV vaccination, screening precancerous lesions, and treating invasive cervical cancer.
“90 percent of girls should be fully vaccinated by 15 years of age, 70 percent of women should be screened at least twice with a high-performance test by age 45 percent and 90 per cent of women with precancerous lesions or cancer should receive the appropriate care and treatment, including palliative care,” Tedros Adhanom, director-general WHO, urged member States to adopt the 90-70-90 target.
Speaking at a recent webinar meeting, Osagie Ehanire, Nigeria’s minister of health, , said cancer screening is still at a rudimentary stage in Africa, noting that 80 per cent of the continent is yet to have access to the Human PapillomaVirus vaccine.
Ehanire who disclosed this during the virtual meeting titled, “The State of Cancer Control Amidst Covid-19″, said the federal government is committed to the introduction of human papillomavirus vaccine into the routine immunization schedule by the first quarter of 2021.
“We will budget for it and match our words with action. Nigeria is strongly committed to achieving the WHO’s global target of 90 per cent coverage of HPV vaccination of girls, 70 per cent coverage of cervical screening and 90 per cent treatment of cervical cancer by 2030. We have achieved this success before in HIV/AIDS, we can do it again,” the minister assured.
With the introduction of HPV vaccine into the routine immunization schedule, and unfettered access to early treatment, no doubt it will set Nigeria on the path of eliminating Cervical Cancer.