GAVI, the vaccine alliance, is partnering with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the Nigerian government to ensure the sustained routine immunization of Nigerian girls against cervical cancer. To achieve this, they will deploy an additional 15 million doses of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria by December.
Nigeria introduced the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into its routine immunization system October 24. The aim is to reach 7.7 million girls, which is the largest number vaccinated against HPV in a single round in the African region.
Girls aged 9–14 years will receive a single dose of the vaccine for free. It has 90% efficacy in preventing infection with HPV types 16 and 18, which are known to cause at least 70% of cervical cancers.
Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer in Nigeria and the second most frequent cause of cancer deaths among women aged between 15 and 44 years. In 2020, the country recorded 12,000 new cases and 8,000 deaths from cervical cancer.
Emily Kobayashi, head of the HPV program at GAVI, spoke at a media briefing in Abuja on Wednesday and noted that the death toll from cervical cancer in Nigeria is grossly underreported. She urged the Nigerian government to ensure sustained vaccination, noting that millions of Nigerian girls would turn 9 years old every year and be eligible to receive life-saving vaccines.
Kobayashi assured that the government will continue to support the Nigerian government to co-finance the purchase of the vaccines for the next three years starting in 2025. She noted that a single dose of the vaccine costs $4.50.
Eduardo Celades, the Chief of Health in UNICEF, also spoke and informed that the Fund has deployed 6 million doses and is set to deploy another 15 million before the end of the year. He expressed optimism that routine vaccination will have a huge impact in Africa.
While noting that teenage girls face many challenges including teenage pregnancy and early marriage, Celades described the HPV vaccines as an incredible entry point to improve the health of girls.
He also urged the Nigerian government to ensure that routine immunization is sustained and expressed concerns that the age range selected for vaccination is not typical, thus there is not much experience in the country.
Celades urged all stakeholders including government at all levels, religious bodies, and traditional rulers to fight misinformation and myths that could slow progress.