HPV Vaccine: Stakeholders decry lack of awareness in Kogi, Niger, Nasarawa

Stakeholders have decried the level of enlightenment on the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine to prevent the prevalence of cervical cancer across the country.

The vaccine is expected to be administered to girls between the ages of nine and 14 years against cervical cancer.

They spoke in separate interviews with journalists on Sunday in Kogi, Nasarawa, and Niger.

The director of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Patrick Edogbamaya, said that the agency has not been part of any enlightenment on the HPV vaccine.

“For now, we are not undertaking any enlightenment on the cervical cancer vaccine for girls aged nine and 14 here in Kogi.

“Probably, the health ministry has yet to contact us on that. But if they do, we won’t hesitate to help sensitise our young girls to the danger of the disease that is killing innocent citizens across the nation,” he said.

The chairman of the Association of National Conference of Principals of Secondary Schools (ANCOPSS), Kogi chapter, Suberu Ommananyi, said he was not aware of immunisation against cervical cancer in the state.

“The government is yet to carry out any sensitisation in the schools in the state on the danger of the disease and the availability of the vaccine for our young girls,” he said.

Farouq Umoru, a consultant gynaecologist with the Federal University Teaching Hospital in Lokoja, said that the level of awareness in Kogi is very low.

He said the virus vaccine was yet to be domesticated as part of the free national immunisation programme.

“This country just announced the integration of HPV vaccines into its routine immunisation schedule a few days ago and is yet to go around the country.

“The few who may have received are those who are privileged to afford it in limited locations outside the state.

“Studies on this are limited. The few that are available show a high rate of infection.

“HPV vaccines, safe sexual practices, public enlightenment, awareness programmes, advocacy, and government commitment remain viable tools for arresting its spread.

“If I can suggest, the best persons to have addressed these questions are the officials of the Kogi State Primary Health Care Development Agency (KSPHCDA).

“They are in charge of immunisation and vaccines and would be more versed in the recent activities of the state with regard to the subject matter,” he said.

Godwin Yakubu, ANCOPPS national secretary, described cervical cancer as “dangerous” and a “killer disease” that must be taken seriously.

Mr Yakubu said sensitisation was ongoing at the national level, but he can’t say anything about Kogi.

A cross-section of parents in Nasarawa State appealed to the state government to extend the immunisation period to enable those yet to be captured to do so.

The parents, who made the appeal in separate interviews with journalists, said that many girls within the age bracket in secondary schools were not captured during the first phase.

Helen Ajegena said her daughter, a student at Queen of Apostles Day Secondary School, Shinge Lafia, was not vaccinated.

Ms Ajegena said that she was aware that the exercise was to commence from October 24 to 28, and the vaccinators were expected to visit every school.

She urged the government to ensure that all schools in the state were captured.

Martha Ewuga said her daughter, who is in boarding school, was not administered the HPV vaccine.

“They should have deployed vaccinators to secondary schools to administer the vaccine since they are young girls,” she added.

Saidu Abubakar, a parent in Lafia, said his daughter was not given the vaccine and called for an extension of the date.

Mohammed Ibrahim, director of health education and social mobilisation at the Nasarawa State Primary Healthcare and Development Agency (NAPHDA), said the first phase of the vaccination was a huge success.

He explained that community and religious leaders were adequately mobilised and participated in the exercise.

Mr Ibrahim explained that complaints were received and measures would be taken to correct them in the next phase of the exercise.

The National Orientation Agency (NOA) in Niger says enlightenment on the HPV vaccine is low as the state has yet to kick-start awareness.

Bala Musa, deputy director at NOA in Niger, said the agency was in touch with the Niger State primary healthcare development agency, saddled with the responsibility of administering.

He said the awareness of the vaccine was shifted to March 2023 due to some challenges encountered, adding that the state only got information on the vaccine from the national level in the media.

“We have not started going to the nooks and crannies in the state yet; hopefully, by March 2024, we will embark on aggressive awareness creation on the vaccine.

“But we are in touch with the state primary healthcare system to ensure that the vaccine is targeted at people because of its efficacy and importance to their livelihood,” he said.

Mr Musa said the enlightenment on the vaccine would involve the media and interpersonal communication to discuss with traditional and religious leaders the importance of the vaccine.

He said that the enlightenment vaccine would help avert fears entertained by parents.

Maimuna Egigogo said awareness of the vaccine was very low, as many people were not aware.

She said she would not allow her girls to receive the vaccine due to the fear that it was not safe.