November 16, 2021

Cervical cancer: First Ladies task WHO, others to prioritize girls’ access to vaccination

3 in 5 new HIV infections are girls without access to education, says WHO

* Launch Vaccine Access Programme in Abuja

By Joseph Erunke

ABUJA-AS increasing number of cervical cancer has become a thing of worry across the world,wives of former and current governors in the country have called on the World Health Organisation, WHO, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers in high income countries to prioritize girls’ access to HPV vaccination through primary healthcare structures.

This came as they said it was “painfully unacceptable that millions of Nigerian and African adolescent girls do not have access to HPV vaccination through our primary healthcare structures.”

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The governors’ wives, operating under the aegis of First Ladies Against Cancer,FLAC,are set to launch a programme, tagged:”FLAC Vaccine Access Programme”,today in Abuja, today, the 16th of November, 2021.

The programme, according to a statement by the group, aims at not only increasing awareness but also driving demand, and most of all providing access to HPV vaccines in the country.

“It remains painfully unacceptable that millions of Nigerian and African adolescent girls do not have access to HPV vaccination through our primary healthcare structures.

” We must place a demand on the pharmaceutical industry, WHO, policymakers in high income countries, and the African Union to prioritize our girls and address the drivers of this inequity. 

“We at FLAC will be at the forefront of this call to action as we launch the “FLAC Vaccine Access Programme” on the 16th of November, which aims

to increase awareness, drive demand, and most of all provide access to HPV vaccines in our states,”FLAC said.

According to the group,”Our vaccine access programme will catalyze access to HPV vaccine for families that can afford out of pocket payment in the immediate term and at the same time, advocating for inclusion of HPV vaccine

into routine immunization to cater for those that can’t afford out of pocket payment.”

Noting that,”It has been 365 days since the launch of the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer by the World Health Organization”, the group commended “the renewed commitment of all cervical cancer advocates in Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of Health,international and indigenous partners to deliver on the stated objectives of this strategy by 2030: To achieve 90% HPV vaccination coverage, 70% screening coverage, and 90% access to treatment for cervical pre-cancer and cancer.”

According to FLAC,”In Nigeria, cervical cancer is the 3rd most common form of cancer and 2nd most common among women.”

“It accounted for 9.7% of all malignancies in 2020, recording an estimated 12,075 new cases and 7,968 deaths annually.

“These numbers tell the unfortunate reality of cervical cancer in Nigeria and

most African countries, a cancer that is largely preventable, treatable and can be eliminated.

“As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, the commitment of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to

cancer care assures us that equitable access to quality services is achievable by 2030,”it said.

The statement read further:”Albeit, we had hoped that at the time of this commemoration, HPV vaccines would be available on the nation’s routine immunization schedule. 

“Global supply chain challenges and inequalities of access have deferred this critical milestone in our elimination roadmap. 

“Nonetheless, we are glad to see that the federal government is delivering on interventions within its control like the Cancer Health Fund which has now

increased access to diagnostic and treatment services across the country through 6 tertiary cancer care centres evenly distributed across geopolitical zones.”

The group said,”We will start this with a series of townhall meetings on cervical cancer prevention, screening and awareness through our community outreach programme.”

“These town hall events will be held in our individual states on the 17th of November 2021.

“Our continued partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Clinton Health Access

Initiative (CHAI) is delivering routine cervical cancer screening and treatment of precancerous lesions through public health facilities to 10,000 women following a scale-up of the CHAI led program to include Kebbi and Niger states. 

“This intervention approach is building the capacity of our health systems to sustain these services, we are grateful to the two state governments, as well as both organizations. 

“It is our prayer that we continue on this journey in the coming year to reach more women across Nigeria.

“The Global Cancer Observatory: GLOBOCAN 2020 Nigeria Population and Cancer Fact Sheets; 2020.

“We call on global and national actors critical to delivering cervical cancer elimination to borrow from the positives of the COVID-19 pandemic response. 

“When words translate into urgent actions, we have favourable outcomes.

” Accelerating the elimination of cervical cancer requires greater political will and

global cooperation that will prioritize improved access to HPV vaccines for low and middle income countries. 

“FLAC will continue to pay close attention to the implementation of the global strategy, offering our support to bring about the desired outcomes in Nigeria.”

Recall that First Ladies Against Cancer,FLAC,is a coalition of the spouses of current and former state governors of Nigeria working to address gaps in the cancer continuum of care; increasing awareness, facilitating access to screening and treatment services, and advocating for the implementation of policies that will deliver equitable access to quality cancer care services irrespective of where you are located in Nigeria.