Lagos. March 4, 2020
March 4 is the International HPV Awareness Day. This is a global event to raise awareness on the human papillomavirus (HPV) - a virus associated with 1 in 20 cancer cases in the world. In 2018, HPV was responsible for 48.4% of cancer cases caused by infections in Africa. (Source: International Agency for Research on Cancer)
HPV is a very common virus.
There are over 200 types of HPV. They are categorised into low-risk and high-risk HPV. Some of the high risk HPV can cause several types of cancers including cervical cancer and cancers of the penis, anus, vagina, vulva and throat. Around 8 out of 10 people, male and female will be infected with the HPV virus at some point in their lives, however most people will clear the infection without even knowing they had it.
Some HPV infections, however, can persist for many years. Persistent infections with high-risk HPV types can lead to cell changes that, if untreated, may progress to cancer. Yet, many people know little about HPV or how to reduce their risk of developing HPV-related cancers. HPV is usually spread through skin-to-skin contact.
The HPV types that infect the genital region, anus and throat are spread through sexual contact. Anyone who is or has been sexually active in the past can get HPV, even if they have had only one partner.
Cervical cancer is the second leading cause of female cancer in Nigeria. It is the most common cancer in women aged 15 to 44 years in the country. Around 14000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year in Nigeria. (Source: ICO HPV Information centre)
The human papillomavirus is the main cause of cervical cancer. The good news is there is a vaccine that prevents infection by certain types of human papillomavirus including the strains which cause cervical cancer.This vaccine is called the HPV vaccine. Presently, there are three types available in the global market which are Cervarix, Gardasil and Gardasil 9.
Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that countries should include routine HPV vaccination in their national immunisation programmes, Nigeria presently has no national HPV immunisation programme. The Federal Ministry of Health’s National Strategic Plan for the Prevention and Control of Cancer of the Cervix in Nigeria (2017 -2021) proposed that in Nigeria, girls between the age of 9 and 13 should receive the HPV vaccine. This is yet to be implemented till date.
CancerAware Nigeria, a Lagos based women’s cancer charity, is at the forefront of a drive to educate and inform Nigerians about HPV. They have an ongoing advocacy campaign called the #14000Reasons HPV vaccination campaign calling on the Government of Nigeria to introduce the HPV vaccine into the country’s routine immunisation schedule so eligible girls can access it for free.
According to the Executive Director of CancerAware, Tolulope Falowo, "Cervical cancer is a cancer that should not happen at all, because it is preventable through vaccination and screening, yet it is the second most common cancer among women in Nigeria. We believe that prioritizing this vaccine means we value the lives of our girls and women."
“We are calling on the Government of Nigeria to introduce the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into the country’s routine immunisation programme so eligible girls can have access to it. At least 16 other African countries have introduced the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into their routine immunisation programme. Nigeria cannot be the exception especially because we have a huge burden of cervical cancer.”
Presently, the HPV vaccine is only available at a few private and public health institutions and at a cost that is quite expensive (between N12000 to N15000 per dose) and beneficiaries will need between 2 to 3 doses.“ "Since the charity launched the #14000Reasons HPV vaccination campaign in 2019, almost 40000 Nigerians have signed the online petition asking the Government to introduce the HPV vaccine so eligible girls can access it for free. Our aim is to get 100,000 signatures." In addition to this, we have also launched an e-book called HPV: Q & A Guide, an information and education resource with common questions and answers on HPV. We believe that with the right information, people can modify their lifestyles to prevent these HPV related cancers." The #140000Reasons HPV vaccination project is supported by Oak Foundation, Switzerland and local partners.
To sign the petition visit www.canceraware.org.ng/reasons
To download the HPV: Q & A e-book, visit www.canceraware.org.ng/ebook