close
close
blog

The HPV vaccination campaign for 5 million girls in Tanzania is a “success”

In April this year, Lisa Peter, an 11-year-old student at Kambange Primary School in Dar Es Salaam, was lying on the living room sofa after school, watching TV channels, when an advertisement from the Ministry of Health on national television caught her. attention.

It showed a loving family with a little girl, preparing her for school. But overlaid on the family scene was a message about a huge vaccination campaign against cervical cancer, a disease that kills more than 7,000 women each year in Tanzania. The ad shows smiling girls playing at school. Lisa was startled when she recognized herself in the ad message.

“The teacher told me: this little pinch makes a big difference! Now I am protected against cervical cancer.”

– Lissa Peter, 11 years old, student at Kambange Primary School in Dar Es Salaam

“I told my mother that I wanted protection from cancer, too,” Lisa says.

Lisa is one of five million Tanzanian girls aged 9 to 14 who were targeted by a recent vaccination campaign against human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus that causes the vast majority of cervical cancers, widely known in Tanzania as ‘saratani ya shingo ya kizazi’.

The campaign, which began in the third week of April as countries around the world celebrated World Immunization Week, was notable not only for its scale but also for its focus. Driven by research from Tanzania’s own scientists, who had been investigating the effectiveness of a single-dose HPV vaccine, the campaign inaugurated a shift from the two-dose regimen used previously.

For the country’s health services, this meant the reduction of logistical barriers, financial savings and the relaxation of supply limitations. For children like Lisa, it meant that lifelong protection would come at the cost of a single hit.

Unlike parents influenced by vaccine rumors that may slow down vaccination efforts, Lisa received immediate reassurance from her mother who, like many parents in her area, had been sensitized by a community health worker (CHW) in the municipality. of Kinondoni from the city on the safety of the vaccine. and health benefits.

Soon, at school, it was Lisa’s turn to get vaccinated. “She hurt my shoulder a little bit,” Lisa said. VaccinesWork Shortly after. “The teacher told me, ‘This little pinch makes a big difference! I’m now protected from cervical cancer,'” she said.

Marygoreth Temba, Lisa’s teacher and health officer at Kambange Primary School, says she collaborated with health workers deployed by the Ministry of Health in schools and helped allay fears and debunk myths around vaccines.

“As an educator, I made sure that students received accurate messages. This seems to have reached parents as well. I have seen many parents change their attitudes and accept vaccines.”

– Marygoreth Temba, school teacher

“As an educator, I made sure that students received accurate messages. This seems to have reached parents as well. I have seen many parents change their attitudes and accept vaccines,” said Temba, echoing the voices of those who were in the first place. online throughout Tanzania, promoting and providing vaccination during the campaign from April 22 to 26, with the support of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

While many countries have implemented HPV vaccination programs over the past decade, Tanzania’s approach has been unique. Launched in 2019, the vaccine was offered immediately as part of the routine vaccination schedule for 14-year-olds. At the time, Tanzania had the fourth highest incidence of cervical cancer globally, with 59 cases per 100,000 women, underscoring the urgency of the vaccine rollout. The incidence is higher in countries such as Tanzania due to high rates of HIV/AIDS, which places women at higher risk of developing cervical cancer.

With global supply increasing, the vaccine can now be offered to a broader target group, spanning nine to 14 years, in a nationwide campaign.

“It is crucial to vaccinate girls before they are exposed to HPV,” says Dr Norman Jonas, Tutor in Internal Medicine at Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College (KCM College). Jonas has participated in public awareness campaigns about HPV vaccines as part of the health promotion support team appointed by the Ministry of Health. He says: “The sooner we protect them, the lower their risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.” This is particularly vital in contexts such as Tanzania, where cervical cancer screening services still have limited availability.

Systematic vaccination was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools, the main site for HPV vaccination, were closed and opportunities to protect girls were missed.

April’s multi-age cohort (MAC) campaign, coming five years after Tanzania’s vaccine rollout, gave the country’s immunization system the opportunity to reach all girls aged 9 to 14 years, an age range calculated to optimize the impact of the vaccine with a single dose of the cancer-blocking vaccine

Clinical trials on the effectiveness of a single dose were being conducted in the country, led by the National Institute of Medical Research (NIMR).

John Changalucha, is a senior research scientist at the NIMR and is part of the clinical trials whose findings were presented to the WHO and the Ministry of Health, leading to a switch to the single-dose vaccine. He says the move to a single dose was further driven by past experiences with “logistical challenges and the increased costs associated with offering multiple doses.”

97% achieved in just one week

“The response to the campaign was positive and successful,” said Dr. Florian Tinuga, director of the Immunization and Vaccination Program (IVD) of the Ministry of Health.

“It is crucial to vaccinate girls before they are exposed to HPV. The sooner we protect them, the lower their risk of developing cervical cancer in the future.”

– Dr. Norman Jonas, Kilimanjaro Christian Medical College

According to the Ministry of Health’s field activity reports, the campaign reached an impressive 97% of the 5 million targeted girls by the end of the campaign week in April. More than 87% came from schools and the remaining girls came through non-school vaccination centers.

CHWs like Chuma Bakari played a key role in dispelling myths and encouraging participation in the HPV vaccination campaign. Bakari, who works in the Dar es Salaam township of Kinondoni, Tanzania, explains one of the challenges he encountered: “Some parents expressed concern about the age at which the vaccine was administered.”

To address these concerns, Bakari stepped up its community outreach efforts. “As part of my routine health education activities, I specifically focused on cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine during the campaign,” he says. “I went door to door to provide accurate information and I am happy to say that I have witnessed a positive change in attitudes. In fact, some parents even brought their youngest daughters, who were not yet eligible, in the hope of getting vaccinate them.”

“I went door to door to provide accurate information and I am happy to say that I have witnessed a positive change in attitudes. In fact, some parents even brought their youngest daughters, who were not yet eligible, in the hope of getting vaccinate them.”

– Chuma Bakari, community health worker, Kinondoni Municipality

The country is now drawing on lessons learned from the campaign as it embarks on a sustainable immunization plan that will run until December this year, aimed at ensuring that all girls aged 9 to 14 receive the vaccine.

IVD Program Director Dr Tinuga says: “We will revisit hard-to-reach areas where girls may have missed opportunities. All those who did not receive the vaccine will be reached through routine immunization programs and regular intensification of routine immunization.

Related Articles

Back to top button