HPV Vaccination: How UNICEF- Supported Community Structures Enhance Rollout Campaign in Bauchi
By Bashir Hassan Abubakar
The just concluded Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccination Rollout Campaign in Bauchi State has recorded huge success especially when one looks at habitual misgivings that are usually associated with introduction of new vaccines that is targeted at a certain age bracket.
We were all witnesses to the resistance that greeted polio, COVID 19 and other routine immunization vaccines in some communities, despite consistent awareness that is still being carried out by different stakeholders.
Prior to the introduction of HPV vaccines, there were apprehensions nursed by stakeholders on public acceptance of the vaccine. But through deliberate strategic planning by both Federal and State Governments of Nigeria, through their respective Primary Health Care Agencies and with support from world bodies that like WHO, UNICEF and other International Partners, the HPV vaccination rollout campaign has recorded less resistance.
For instance the technical support UNICEF provided, not only in Bauchi State, but across the entire country has greatly contributed to the success of the HPV campaign in the State.
According to UNICEF’s Representative in Nigeria, Cristian Munduate, UNICEF had procured nearly 15 million HPV vaccines on behalf of the Government of Nigeria, alongside this, the children’s agency has produced informational materials, including radio and TV jingles in multiple local languages to dispel misinformation and rumours. To further the outreach, UNICEF also supported academia and researches with two rounds of readiness assessments to understand the population’s sentiments on HPV and the vaccine.
Additionally, UNICEF has facilitated logistical support for vaccination campaigns and distributed cold chain equipment for vaccine preservation.
This information was disclosed by Munduate during the National flag off ceremony of the HPV campaign in Abuja.
Munduate was we quoted as saying, “In our shared quest for a brighter future, the introduction of the HPV vaccine in Nigeria represents a monumental stride towards safeguarding our girls from the grips of cervical cancer. This vaccine doesn’t just prevent a disease; it promises a life where our young women can thrive, unburdened by the spectre of this grave health concern. UNICEF, in collaboration with the government and other partners, is proud to be a key partner in this initiative, ensuring that every eligible girl, irrespective of her location or circumstances, has access to this life-saving intervention. Together, we are scripting a narrative of hope, resilience, and a healthier Nigeria,”
At the State level, UNICEF Bauchi field office also played a significant role in the success recorded during the campaign in Bauchi State.
At the pre-implementation level, the field office, in collaboration with the State primary health care agency, provided technical and logistics support to it’s community based volunteers to carry out intensive sensitisation and awareness creation within all the nooks and crannies of Bauchi State.
Sensitisation and awareness creation were carried out in public and private schools, places of worship, markets, motor parks and house to house. The one-on-one community engagement that was facilitated by UNICEF Bauchi field office had significantly enlightened care givers on the importance of HPV Vaccination. This much was corroborated by caregivers across the entire 20 Local Government Areas of Bauchi State.
When our correspondent visited Toro Local Government Area of Bauchi State on an on-the-spot assessment of the HPV campaign, some caregivers shared their perception of the HPV immunization campaign.
Sharing his thoughts on the campaign, Mallam Bala Ibrahim of Sabon Garin Narabi community of Toro LGA said that though when words start filtering about the HPV vaccination rollout, he did not give much thought and also made up his mind that his four children within that age bracket will not take the vaccine.
On why he changed his mind and allowed his children to be administered the vaccine, Mallam Ibrahim said that the consistent awareness campaign by volunteer community mobilizers (VCMs) and several radio jingles has played a significant role in changing his earlier stand on the HPV campaign.
“This time around Government and their partners have been deliberate in carrying out intensive awareness before commencing the campaign. Prior to the awareness campaign, I am not even aware of what cervical cancer is and how it can be prevented. I had come across some women that got afflicted with cervical cancer which we referred to as “Daji” and it is heart wrenching and expensive to manage, with many of the patients not surviving, even after spending so much money. So, if I can get my children protected against cervical cancer through the HPV vaccine, there is no reason why my children can’t take the injection”.
For Mrs. Rabi Ahmed of Tilden Fulani settlement, a mother of three, the house to house awareness campaign that was carried out by Mama2Mama support group and other volunteer mobilizers was the deciding factor for her and her husband to allow their two female daughters to take the HPV vaccine.
“Before the HPV campaign, I was in tune with the mobilization activities of Mama2Mama teams in our community. You always see them moving from house to house giving health talk to pregnant women and adolescents on the need to access healthcare services.
These volunteers have gained the trust of so many of us in this community.
“So, this time around, they used the information they have on the menace of cervical cancer, its dangers to mostly newly married girls and stressed on the need to take the HPV vaccine early in the life of our daughters to provide immunity to them. For me and my husband, we don’t need further convincing and i am happy my two eligible daughters have taken the vaccine in their school”, said Mrs. Ahmed.
The assertion of Mrs. Rabi Ahmed was further confirmed by UNICEF Bauchi Field office’s Health Specialist Dr. Emmanuel Emedo saying that in Bauchi state, the Mama2Mama support group which are women in their various communities were trained by UNICEF to mobilise their peers, children and all population for access healthcare services.
According to Dr Emedo, a total of 6,450 women across the 323 Wards in Bauchi state have been engaged for mobilisation of all eligible girls for the HPV rollout immunization campaign.
The UNICEF supported volunteer groups also shared their enthusiasm with our correspondent during the assessment visit.
Balkisu Hussein Lame, a member of Mama2mama volunteer group in Toro LGA said that they were adequately trained by UNICEF on how to go about mobilizing people particularly women parents for the exercise and that since then, they have been going from house to house to talk to parents about the HPV vaccination.
She added that, “because we have been engaged in previous immunization exercises, the HPV mobilization campaign did not pose much challenge to us. We used what we were taught during the capacity building training and it has been a huge success.”
Balkisu Hussein Lame who gave a vivid understanding of the negative effect of HPV, stressed the importance of taking the vaccine by girls aged 9 – 14 so that in future when they reach reproductive period, it will immune them against cervical cancer.
Another Volunteer Community Mobilizer (VCM), Zainab Mohammed Bello said that the mobilization was not stressful as parents responded positively to the exercise.
Zainab Mohammed Bello said that the various capacity building trainings they have received from UNICEF and other organisations came in handy during the mobilization for the HPV vaccination campaign in Toro LGA.
She added that all the mobilization technique they got were applied which made speaking to parents particularly women, easy to their understanding saying that the response has been very tremendous.
One interesting thing that caught the attention of our correspondent was the determination of an 11-year-old Hajara Dahiru Polci to also assist in carrying out awareness during the just concluded one week campaign.
Speaking shortly after she was administered with the HPV vaccine in their school premises, Hajara said that when Mama2Mama support group visited their house she was around and her mother made her sit to listen to the group’s messages regarding cervical cancer.
“With the knowledge I got from volunteer mobilizers that visited our house and encouragement from both my parents, I was more than determined to take the vaccine. In fact not only did I get vaccinated, but i am now also a self appointed volunteer mobilizer among my peers because of the immunity inherent in the HPV vaccine”, the 11-year-old Hajara enthused.
At the premises of Al-Ihsan Mallawa Academy in Toro LGA, where our correspondent came across Hajara Dahiru Polci, students and pupils were seen gleefully taking the vaccine
The resounding success of the campaign was equally felt by the Toro LG administration.
Caretaker Chairman of Toro Local Government Area (LGA) in Bauchi State, Comrade Danlami Garba Tashan Durumi, specifically applauded UNICEF for its efforts in training community volunteers, including Mama2mama members, Volunteer Community Mobilizers (VCM), and Behavioral Community Mobilizers (BCM), saying that, “these volunteers have been diligently visiting households to mobilize caregivers to allow their eligible girls to get the vaccination”.
“The importance of these groups cannot be overstated in the success of the campaign because they are the true frontline workers whose contributions are immense,” he stated.
The Director of Primary Healthcare in the LGA, Rahmatu Isiyaku Ningi, whose joy knew no bounds also expressed her gratitude to UNICEF, WHO and other International Partners for supporting the Local Government and the State in general before, during and after the successful implementation of the HPV vaccination rollout campaign.
“From the day we started up to today, it’s evident that people are accepting the vaccines very well.”
According to her, people are actively seeking the vaccine due to extensive sensitization carried out by various resource groups within the LGA. UNICEF community mobilizers collaborated with religious leaders, including Imams and members of the Church, to convey the importance of the vaccine and the risks associated with cervical cancer.
It is heartwarming to note that, at end of the HPV vaccination rollout campaign, Bauchi State has vaccinated 428,000 girls aged 9-15 years with the HPV vaccine which surpassed it’s initial target of 400, 000.
This success may not be unconnected with the massive mobilization of the communities carried out by UNICEF supported community based support groups in Bauchi State and indeed, Nigeria as a whole.