Dr Faisal Shuaib, the Executive Director, National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), says the agency will commence immunization against Human Papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer, on a national scale by first quarter of 2021.
He made this known at a Virtual National Stakeholders’ Forum on the Elimination of Cervical Cancer organized by the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) of the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH).
The virtual meeting was organized by NCCP in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health International Vaccine Access Centre and Direct Consulting and Logistics.
According to him, what should concern stakeholders is how to eliminate barriers to availability of human papillomaviruses (HPV) vaccine that has been around for over 10 years:
“We have to crush the barriers that prevent us from accessing this vaccine, such as HPV when it is available anywhere in the world.
“Africa should not always wait for decades to get solution that is available globally, not just in Africa but in Nigeria specifically.
“We at the NPHCDA are committed; we are committed to delivering HPV vaccine to our communities.
“It took a long time for us to get here, we are going to finish and cross the line like we did for polio eradication last week.
“The Federal Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the NPHCDA, is in the forefront of driving local vaccine production through our joint venture agreement with May and Baker.
“It is one of the interventions that FMoH is putting in place to make sure that we don’t need to wait for decades to prevent such terrible disease.”
Shuaib said the agency had improved routine immunization in the past two years, doubling coverage from 32 percent in 2016 to 67 percent in 2019.
“You can be sure that once we introduce HPV vaccine in the first quarter 2021, we will ramp up coverage in the first approach.
“It is not just vaccine that matters, we are introducing as part of our post COVID-19 strategy, we are ramping up our pre-cancer screening in primary health care centres.
“We are building the capacity of primary health workers so that they will be able to carry out simple screening and breast examination for breast cancer.
“But also on annual basis, we are trying to build the capacity of health workers so that they can do simple examinations of the cervix if there is any indication that they are abnormal.
“The workers will then be able to encourage women to do Pap Smear test on annual basis.”
The executive director said NPHCDA was passionate about so many things, noting that introducing vaccine against cervical cancer and other cancers is a priority for the Agency:
“It is priority and ensuring screening for cervical cancer is a model we are introducing as re-emerging in the Post COVID-19 era.”
He commended Dr Zainab Bagudu, the founder of Medicaid Cancer Foundation for her advocacy work on cancer.
Bagudu, the First Lady of Kebbi State, in her remarks said the world was moving toward elimination of cancer and that Nigeria should not be left behind.
“For us in Kebbi, we may not have high technology, but we have the awareness and the human resources at Primary Health Care centres.
“We are waiting for the vaccine to commence and support our work in that area, and we will be pleased to partner with all to achieve our goals,” Dr. Bagudu said.
Dr Chizoba Wonodi of the John Hopkins International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC), said the objectives of the meeting was to share latest updates on the global push toward the elimination of cancer and promote increased understanding of the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders at all levels.
The meeting was also to review progress on the challenges to achieving the objectives set out in the National Strategic Plan and to proffer solutions to address the challenges in implementing the plan.
The forum is planned to hold in two phases: the virtual phase and later an in-person phase after the COVID-19 lockdown is fully lifted.
Cervical cancer is a deadly disease that affects over 14,000 women and has caused 8,000 deaths due to late presentation at health facilities annually, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in women aged 15 to 44 years in Nigeria.
The main cause of cervical cancer is the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
Evidence showed that HPV could be eliminated using three interventions: HPV vaccination, screening for pre-cancerous lesions and, treatment of invasive cancer.
Amaka E. Nliam