The Federal Government on Monday said it will introduce life-saving Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent cervical cancer in women and girls on September 25, 2023.
The FG said this at the bi-annual review meeting of religious leaders on Primary Health Care delivery in Abuja.
Former Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo had, on March 16, 2020, promised that the HPV vaccines would be introduced into the national immunization schedule in a couple of months.
In his remarks at the flag-off event for the Integrated Medical Outreach Programme, Osinbajo had said, “We would ensure in the next couple of months that Rotavirus and Human Papillomavirus vaccines are introduced into the national immunization schedule, to prevent childhood diarrheal diseases and reduce the incidence of cervical cancer in women.”
“It is the firm commitment of the Federal Government that no child or individual should be without access to life-saving vaccines and primary health care services,” Osinbajo had added.
However, the FG launched the Rotavirus vaccine into routine immunization in August 2023.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the cells of the cervix. Various strains of the HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, play a role in causing most cervical cancer.
The HPV vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 90 per cent of HPV-attributable cancers.
The World Health Organisation said two HPV types (16 and 18), which are common in Nigeria, are responsible for nearly 50 per cent of high-grade cervical pre-cancers.
In Nigeria, an estimated 14,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer, and 7,968 women die from the disease every year.
HPV vaccine has the potential to prevent more than 90 per cent of HPV-attributable cancers
Speaking at the review meeting, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Dr Muhammad Pate, represented by the Senior Special Adviser to the Minister, Dr Emmanuel Odu said, there is a need to blend the spiritual with scientific knowledge and skills to address health challenges.
He said, “I acknowledge the contributions of our faith community to healthcare delivery in the country, as we are aware that some of our religious organisations provide healthcare services at the primary, secondary, and even tertiary healthcare level. This is most commendable, and I urge you to keep it up, as the government alone cannot do.
“The FG under the leadership of His Excellency, President Bola Tinubu is determined to change the narrative by making health affordable and accessible to all Nigerians. We will therefore need the support of the faith community as we roll out the FG’s agenda for the health of our people. We will be relying on your influence to build trust and enhance community ownership of all our health interventions.”
In his remarks, the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, Dr Faisal Shuaib urged religious leaders to help raise awareness in their congregations about the free HPV vaccination, dispel myths and misconceptions about the vaccine, and encourage their members to embrace better health-seeking behaviours.
Dr Shuaib said, “On September 25th this year, we will be introducing the HPV vaccine that prevents cervical cancer when given to our daughters between the ages of nine to 15 years.
“In your roles are spiritual guides, you own the power to influence hearts and minds, and your words carry weight and inspire action. I urge you to join hands today 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. HPV vaccination is more than a medical breakthrough, but a testament to our unity and the sanctity of life.”
The President of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Abubakar III said, “When we are talking about the health issues of our people, first and foremost you must talk about how to feed the common man.
“Without food, no drug will work. Government must face this reality, and if care is not taken, it will be worse next year. I am not predicting, but we have to work on ourselves because of the issues we see on the ground.
“We have full hope that we will get out of the woods. We are not losing hope. I am not campaigning for Asiwaju’s renewed hope, but we must have hope in what Almighty Allah can do for us, but we must do for ourselves.
“This forum will review all health issues, successes, failures, and what must be done. We are ready to do the needful. The government can count on us – traditional and religious leaders. We believe in telling the people what the government is doing. If the government does anything right, we clap for them, and if they do anything wrong, we caution them not to go that way.”
The President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Archbishop Daniel Okoh, who was represented by Rev. Joseph added the religious body is delighted that primary health care is beginning to get the kind of attention it deserves.
“More importantly, religious leaders are given the opportunity to dialogue by way of review about what is happening in this particular sector of our national lives. Even on health issues, a lot of Nigerians still prefer to listen to their religious leaders before listening to their doctors, even 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.
“With initiatives like this, we are optimistic that improved healthcare will be made accessible, especially those in the rural areas.”