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Sorry, no cervical cancer vaccine for Nigerian women –Donors

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IMAGE: Cervix »

19. June


There seems to be more trouble ahead as Nigeria has been disqualified from benefitting from subsidised vaccine for cervical cancer, BUKOLA ADEBAYOreports

It is a fallacy to say that cervical cancer is not preventable. Neither is it true to say that Nigeria is so poor that it cannot provide its women population with the right vaccine to prevent the disease caused by the Human Papilloma Virus.

Yet, the disease still kills about 26 Nigerian women daily. This is due to high cost of HPV vaccine and poor commitment from all the three tiers of governments to fight the scourge. A dose of the vaccine costs N20,800. And donor agencies that should have been of help by giving subsidised vaccine to the country have said that they would not do so because Nigeria lacks effective vaccination coverage system, infrastructure and policy for the proper delivery of the much needed product. The nation, they argue, also lacks proper cold chain system for the preservation of the vaccines.

What makes the situation pathetic is that, the country has been rated the first nation in Africa and the fifth in the world with the highest cervical cancer deaths. This is according to a new report released in May by the Cervical Cancer Free Coalition, titled “Crisis Card.” It states that cervical cancer has reached a crisis level in Nigeria with 9,659 women dying of the disease every year in the country.

India and China, with 72,825 and 33,914 deaths respectively, topped the list of countries where most women are dying of this disease in the world. The others are Brazil, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. Cervical cancer occurs when the DNA of the HPV virus has infected the cervix of a woman over a long period of time.

As deadly as this cancer is, it is 99 per cent preventable with a vaccine and also 97 per cent treatable when detected early through screening. For now,it is the only cancer that can be prevented with a vaccine.

One thus would wonders why women are still dying of this cancer if it has a vaccine and it can be cured, compared to other killer cancers of the breast, liver and kidneys.

Experts, stakeholders, survivors of the disease, who spoke at the Global Cervical Cancer Prevention Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia recently identified cost of the HPV vaccine and poor commitment from governments where this disease is rampant as reasons why more women are dying from the preventable disease.

The HPV vaccine that is given to girls and women to prevent this cancer is expensive.It is also a venture which many governments are not willing to commit resources to, even though it is killing their womenfolk daily.

For example, it costs N20,800  to  get each dose of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria and a woman would need three doses over a period of six months. This is far above the N18,000 minimum wage in the country.

 However, to make the vaccine more affordable and accessible, the global community, through donor agencies such as GAVI Alliance, will be providing this vaccine for governments at a highly subsidised rate.

 But the Chief Executive Officer, Gavi Alliance, Dr. Seth Berkley, whose organisation coordinates the availability, supply and distribution of the HPV vaccines, said Nigeria would not benefit from the globally subsided HPV vaccines.

Berkley told our correspondent that though Nigeria recorded the highest number of deaths from the disease in Africa, it was not eligible to benefit from this largesse due to poor vaccination system and poor coverage.

He said, “The immunisation coverage in Nigeria is just above 40 per cent.For this programme to be effective, we are only giving it to countries that have demonstrated that they have the capacity, infrastructure and human resources to get the HPV vaccines administered effectively.

“We are not giving it to countries where we can see that their cold chain storage system is not effective and vaccines cannot be stored appropriately or where vaccines would not get to the end users because they do not have the human resources or facilities. Nigeria has not met these criteria.”

He disclosed that countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Niger, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Tanzania, whose governments have demonstrated that they could effectively incorporate the HPV vaccination into their immunisation programme, would benefit from the pilot project while Nigeria waits.

He, however, said the organisation would continue to work with the Nigerian government to help it meet the criteria that would enable it to qualify for the next round of subsidised vaccines.

Berkely said the decision to reduce the price of the vaccines is to allow poor countries in the world to protect their girls against one of the leading killers of women.

“We are working towards ensuring that cervical cancer is not a disease killing women only in Africa and Asia in the future because girls and women in other countries have been successfully vaccinated against the disease.

“Africa and Asia must scale up its efforts to protect its girls from this killer cancer by showing more commitment.HPV vaccine is expensive. This is why GAVI provided a funding stream to make the vaccines available to countries that cannot afford it. We can get HPV vaccines to 33 million girls by 2030.What we need is the political will from governments in these countries,” he added.

If Nigeria were to benefit from this initiative, HPV vaccine,  which is at present given at N60,000 for a full dosage, would have been available in the country for just N2,400.

However, stakeholders who spoke at the forum in Kuala Lumpur ,Malaysia charged governments of countries where women are dying of cervical cancer to aggressively commit their resources to the prevention of this disease.

They also launched a  ‘Call to Action’ towards the total eradication of cervical cancer.

The ‘Call to Action’ is a framework aimed at ensuring that all women and girls have equitable access to HPV vaccines, screening and treatment.

They called on policy makers in Africa and Asia – the cervical cancer crisis zones – to declare war on this disease as they have done on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

The convener of the forum and the Founder/President, Global Health Strategies, Mr. David Gold, said as if many diseases such as guinea worm, polio had been eradicated in most parts of the world, cervical cancer, through effective administration of vaccine for every adolescent girl, should also be eradicated.

Gold said, “The world is lucky that there is a cancer that can be prevented using a vaccine. It means it can be totally eliminated from mankind but the question is when? If and how many of our sisters, daughters, and mothers will die of cervical cancer before we eradicate this preventable disease from the world? It is a question that our governments must answer.”

Cervical cancer is no respecter of age or status. A survivor, a former queen of the Miss Malaysia pageant, Genevieve Sambi, who was diagnosed with the disease when she was 30 years, said there was a need to erode some misconceptions about the disease before government could embrace preventive strategies.

According to her, because the virus is sexually transmitted, it was often associated with promiscuity and infidelity, especially in countries with poor literacy rates; therefore, women often shy away from being screened and vaccinated against the disease.

Sambi, the Ambassador, Power Over Cervical Cancer, who shared her experience at the forum, said many women had rejected pap smear screening, a major test conducted to detect the cancer because they did not want to be perceived as being wayward.

 “I have had people ask me if I got cervical cancer because I was promiscuous before I got married, or if I slept with other men after. Many governments won’t prioritise HPV vaccination because they believe that once they vaccinate a girl against it, she would be having more sexual relations.

“Women with the symptoms of the cancer will not seek treatment till it’s late because they do not want to be tagged an unfaithful woman. Cervical cancer happened to me, it can happen to anyone, but it need not be that way if our leaders  know more about it and show more commitment towards achieving a cervical cancer-free world.”

Article Credit: Punch Newspaper

Updated 6 Years ago

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