The Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum recently made a significant commitment to amplify public advocacy for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, aiming to combat cervical cancer and confront resistance to immunization. Despite various lethal diseases causing havoc both nationally and globally, there’s persistent dissemination of misinformation surrounding vaccination, particularly targeting the current national HPV immunization campaign. It’s crucial for all stakeholders to continuously collaborate in educating Nigerians about the vital importance of vaccination.
Today marks the 2023 World Immunization Day, a global initiative emphasizing the imperative nature of ongoing vaccination efforts within the country. November 10th, designated by the United Nations, serves as a day to raise awareness regarding the benefits and effectiveness of vaccination in disease prevention.
Following their retreat in Bauchi, the NGWF resolved to heighten public awareness about the HPV vaccine, specifically to combat the prevalence of cervical cancer.
Regrettably, despite a national program offering free HPV screening for Nigerian women, certain skeptical groups and individuals are undermining these efforts, often fueling conspiracy theories. Such attitudes not only prove counterproductive but can also be fatal, denying protection from severe diseases to the millions who avoid immunization. For instance, the World Health Organization indicates that over 95% of cervical cancer cases result from HPV, the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract.
HPV is a widespread virus with around 100 types, with approximately 30 strains transmitted through sexual contact, affecting the genitals. Some strains are known to cause cervical cancer in women. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Nigeria has about 60.9 million women aged 15 to 49 at risk of developing cervical cancer.
UNICEF reports that in Nigeria, cervical cancer stands as the third most common form of cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women aged 15 to 44. In 2020, GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, estimated that out of the 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer reported in Nigeria, approximately 8,000 resulted in fatalities.
Unfortunately, the commendable drive to promote HPV vaccines by the Nigeria Governors’ Wives Forum faces opposition fueled by unfounded conspiracy theories. This misleading narrative wrongly portrays the vaccine as a Western plot to sterilize young girls, a claim without any basis.
These false notions have fueled a phenomenon known as “vaccine hesitancy,” undermining past immunization efforts both nationally and globally. This reluctance poses a significant challenge, perpetuating diseases like polio, diphtheria, measles, and COVID-19. The persistence of these diseases contributes to the annual deaths of approximately 1.5 million children worldwide, despite the availability of preventable vaccines, as per the WHO.
The roots of vaccine hesitancy lie in myths, misinformation, distrust of healthcare systems, influential figures spreading negativity, and concerns regarding vaccine safety.
World Immunization Day activities must prioritize extensive public awareness campaigns and comprehensive education on vaccines. Entities and groups spreading false anti-vaccine information should face consequences, given their significant threat to public health.
It’s crucial for stakeholders and non-governmental organizations to intensify efforts aimed at dispelling misinformation circulated by these “anti-vaxxers.” Nigerians must actively take charge of their health and well-being by embracing vaccination services provided by both governmental and non-governmental bodies.