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99% cervical cancer linked to common virus transmitted during sex — WHO

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By Matthew Denis

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Rebecca Moeti has disclosed that almost all 99 percent of cervical cancer is linked to the common virus, human papilloma virus (HPV),  that is transmitted during sex.

The Regional Director made the disclosure in a statement made available to Nigerian NewsDirect in Abuja, while stating that the month of January, 2024 is slated for cervical cancer awareness month.

She said, “January is cervical cancer awareness month and the WHO African Region joins other WHO regions in marking this month to promote the three key messages of this year’s campaign: be informed; get screened; and get vaccinated.

“It is critical that young women in particular know about the link between cervical cancer and the human papilloma virus (HPV).

“Almost all (99 percent) of cervical cancer is linked to this common virus that is transmitted during sex. Second, getting screened knowing about this link with a common viral infection means that it is now easier to screen women for the disease.

“And third, get vaccinated – this disease can be prevented by vaccinating young women, thus preventing HPV infection. Cervical cancer awareness requires us to empower women with knowledge, at school, by clinic staff, and from women who are living with the disease. Understanding the link between the disease and HPV will encourage screening, and HPV vaccination among young women.”

According to her in 2020, in the WHO African Region, 100,000 women developed cervical cancer “and approximately 70,000 of these women died – this is 21 percent of the cervical cancer mortality globally. Cervical cancer disproportionately affects some of our most vulnerable communities.”

Dr. Moeti revealed that the high rates of cervical cancer in Africa region show that there are major gaps in knowledge, awareness of the disease, and access to screening.

“We also need urgently to ensure that the HPV vaccine reaches all our young women between the ages of 9 to 14 years. This requires us to focus on our immediate needs in order to address these gaps.

“How are we, in the WHO African Region, tackling this unacceptable burden of disease? First, as a region, we have a specific public health framework, launched in 2021, aimed at accelerating the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem in Africa. This framework contains concrete actions that can be taken to reach the following targets: 90 percent of girls are fully vaccinated with HPV vaccine by 15 years of age; 70 percent of women are screened using a high-performance test by 35 years of age and again by 45 years of age; and 90 percent of women with pre-cancer are treated, and 90 percent of women with more advanced cancer are managed.

 

“We also need to be aware that women living with HIV have increased susceptibility to HPV infection and so an increased risk of cervical cancer. While this is a particular challenge in the African Region, with our high levels of HIV infection, this is also an opportunity.

“We can use our HIV screening and treatment services as another opportunity to raise awareness of cervical cancer, and offer screening and vaccination to women attending HIV services. We are making good progress in this area, by integrating cervical cancer screening and treatment services into HIV programmes noting  that in Zambia they started this initiative in 2018. Around 235,000 women living with HIV were screened from November 2020 to October 2021. Between 2022 and 2023, there was an increase of 30 percent in cervical cancer screening rates among women living with HIV,” she said.

The Director emphasised that HIV services are not the only programmes into which cervical cancer screening and treatment services can be integrated.

She stressed that HPV vaccination – a game-changer in the drive to eliminate cervical cancer, not only in our region, but also globally they  are making major progress in this area.

“Twenty-seven countries in our region have started HPV vaccination, making it part of routine vaccination in young women. Another move towards accelerating the introduction of the life-saving HPV vaccine, is towards using only one dose – shown to be highly effective, and which means that young women are less likely to drop out of the vaccine schedule.

“Already, 4 countries have adopted the single dose vaccine. The region overall, is scaling up and increasing HPV vaccine coverage in the target populations, which is highly encouraging.

“I would urge all countries in the region to actively engage in awareness campaigns, promote screening and encourage HPV vaccination among their young women,” she said.

The Director summoned, “As we start 2024, let’s keep cervical cancer high on our agenda. My message is clear: first, cervical cancer can be prevented and it can be cured. Everyone needs to be aware of the disease, what causes it and how it can be prevented. Second, there is no one intervention that will achieve this – we need to harness a range of techniques and approaches.

“Third, the WHO Regional Office for Africa will continue to work with our countries and a range of partners and stakeholders to accelerate action against cervical cancer and ensure that no woman in Africa needs to be diagnosed with this devastating disease.”

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Capacity training will reduce migration of health workers- NPHCDA

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The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) says it is taking steps towards tackling migration of health workers through capacity training programmes.
Mr Julius Idoko, NPHCDA Coordinator in Cross River, said this at the opening of a five-day capacity training for 100 frontline healthcare workers in the state on Tuesday.
Idoko said that the training, a project of the Health Minister, Prof. Mohammad Pate, was aimed at improving the capacity of health workers and making migration out of the country less attractive.
”The rate at which health workers leave the country has become worrisome, this training is to build their capacities.
”This initiative is one of the steps we are taking to curb the continuous exodus of healthcare professionals from the country.
”If we continue to engage and improve the capacity of our health workers, there will be no reason for them to leave the country,” he said.
The cordinator said that the initiative targets to capture no fewer than 120,000 healthcare workers in public institutions across the country.
Also speaking, Dr Henry Ayuk, Cross River’s Commissioner for Health, described the training as ‘very important’ to the state following its peculiar challenges.
He said the training would strengthen the skills of healthcare workers and enhance their performances.
Ayuk said that the state government would equip no fewer then 450 primary health centres within the next one year to enhance healthcare delivery.
Dr Vivian Otu, Director-General, Cross Rivers Primary Healthcare Development Agency, commended NPHCDA for the initiative, describing it as timely and well-intended
He said thet those who benefited from the exercise would train others to ensure an active and efficient workforce.
The programme attracted participants from WHO, University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, President’s Malaria Initiative among others
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WHO targets immunisation of one million people, as Nigeria becomes first country to receive new meningitis vaccine

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is targeting the immunisation of 1millikn persons as Nigeria becomes the first country in the world to roll out a new vaccine (Men5CV).

In a statement on Friday, WHO said that the vaccine would protect people against five strains of Meningococcus bacteria and described Nigeria’s feat as historic.

It said that health workers would begin an immunisation campaign aimed at reaching one million people.

The statement said that the vaccine and emergency vaccination activities are funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which funds the global meningitis vaccine stockpile and supports lower-income countries with routine vaccination against meningitis.

According to the WHO, Nigeria is one of the 26 meningitis hyper-endemic countries in Africa, situated in the area known as the African Meningitis Belt.

It noted that in 2023, there was a 50 percent jump in annual meningitis cases reported across Africa.

“In Nigeria, an outbreak of Neisseria meningitidis (meningococcus) serogroup C outbreak, led to 1,742 suspected meningitis cases, including 101 confirmed cases and 153 deaths in seven of the 36 Nigerian states between October 2023 and March 2024.”

The states are Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, Jigawa, Katsina, Yobe, and Zamfara.

“To quell the deadly outbreak, a vaccination campaign was undertaken on March 25–28, 2024, to initially reach more than one million people aged 1-29 years,” it said.

The statement noted that meningitis is a serious infection that leads to the inflammation of the membranes (meninges) that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.

“There are multiple causes of meningitis, including viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic pathogens.”

“Symptoms often include headache, fever, and stiff neck. Bacterial meningitis is the most serious and can also result in septicaemia (blood poisoning). It can seriously disable or kill within 24 hours,” the statement added.

It quoted WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, as saying that meningitis was an old and deadly foe, adding that the new vaccine holds the potential to change the trajectory of the disease, preventing future outbreaks and saving many lives.

“Nigeria’s rollout brings us one step closer to our goal of eliminating meningitis by 2030,” Ghebreyesus said.

He said that the revolutionary new vaccine offers a powerful shield against the five major strains of the meningococcal bacteria – A, C, W, Y, and X – in a single shot.

All five strains cause meningitis and blood poisoning.

According to him, this provides broader protection than the current vaccine used in much of Africa, which is only effective against the A strain.

He said that the new vaccine has the potential to significantly reduce meningitis cases and advance progress in defeating meningitis.

“This is especially important for countries like Nigeria, where multiple serogroups are prevalent.

“The new vaccine uses the same technology as the meningitis A conjugate vaccine (MenAfriVac®), which wiped out meningococcal A epidemics in Nigeria,” the WHO boss said.

The statement quoted Prof. Muhammad Pate, Nigeria’s Minister of Health and Social Welfare, as saying that Northern Nigeria, particularly the states of Jigawa, Bauchi, and Yobe, were badly hit by the deadly outbreak of meningitis.

“This vaccine provides health workers with a new tool to both stop this outbreak and also put the country on a path to elimination,” Pate said.

According to him, Nigeria has done a lot of work preparing health workers and the health system for the rollout of the new vaccine.

“We got invaluable support from our populations in spite of the fasting period, and from our community leaders, especially the Emir of Gumel in Jigawa, who personally launched the vaccination campaign in the state.

“We’ll be monitoring progress closely and hopefully expand the immunisation in the coming months and years to accelerate progress,” he said.

The Minister said that the new multivalent conjugate vaccine took 13 years of effort and was based on a partnership between PATH and the Serum Institute of India.

“Financing from the UK government’s Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office was critical to its development,” he said.

Pate said that in July 2023, WHO prequalified the new Men5CV vaccine (which has brand name MenFive®), and in October 2023, it issued an official recommendation to countries to introduce the new vaccine.

According to him, Gavi allocated resources for the Men5CV rollout in December 2023, which are currently available for outbreak response through the emergency stockpile managed by the International Coordinating Group (ICG) on vaccine provision.

He added that the rollout, through mass preventive campaigns, was expected to start in 2025 across countries of the Meningitis Belt.

UK Minister for Development and Africa, Mr Andrew Mitchell, was also quoted as saying that the rollout of one million vaccines in northern Nigeria would help save lives, prevent long-term illness, and boost the goal of defeating meningitis globally by 2030.

“This is exactly the kind of scientific innovation supported by the UK, which I hope is replicated in years to come, to help us drive further breakthroughs, including wiping out other diseases,” Mitchell said.

He said that WHO has been supporting the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (NCDC) in responding to the meningitis outbreak in the country.

According to him, the areas of support include disease surveillance, active case finding, sample testing, and case management.

“WHO and partners have also played a vital role in supporting Nigeria to prepare for the rollout of the new vaccine and training health workers,” he said.

PATH’s Chief of Africa Region, Dr Nanthalile Mugala, was also quoted as saying that meningococcal meningitis had tormented countries across Africa year after year.

“The introduction of MenFive® in Nigeria heralds a transformative era in the fight against meningococcal meningitis in Africa.

“Building on the legacy of previous vaccination efforts, this milestone reflects over a decade of unwavering, innovative partnerships.

“The promise of MenFive® lies not just in its immediate impact but in the countless lives it stands to protect in the years to come, moving us closer to a future free from the threat of this disease,” Mugala said.

According to her, in 2019, WHO and partners launched the global roadmap to defeating meningitis by 2030.

“The roadmap sets a comprehensive vision towards a world free of meningitis and has three goals, including the elimination of bacterial meningitis epidemics.

Another goal is the reduction of cases of vaccine-preventable bacterial meningitis by 50 percent and deaths by 70 percent, as well as the reduction of disability and improvement of quality of life after meningitis, due to any cause.

Chief Programme Officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Ms Aurélia Nguyen, was also quoted as saying that with outbreaks of infectious diseases on the rise worldwide, new innovations such as MenFive® were critical in helping the fight back.

She said that Vaccine Alliance funds the global stockpile as well as vaccine rollout in lower-income countries.

“This first shipment signals the start of Gavi support for a multivalent meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MMCV) programme which, with the required donor funding for our next five years of work, will see pentavalent meningococcal conjugate vaccines rolled out in high-risk countries.

“Thanks to vaccines, we have eliminated large and disruptive outbreaks of meningitis A in Africa, and now we have a tool to respond to other serogroups that still cause large outbreaks, resulting in long-term disability and deaths,” Nguyen said.

According to her, following Nigeria’s meningitis vaccine campaign, a major milestone on the road to defeat meningitis is the international summit on meningitis taking place in Paris in April 2024, where leaders will celebrate progress, identify challenges and assess next steps.

“It is also an opportunity for country leaders and key partners to commit, politically and financially, to accelerate progress towards eliminating meningitis as a public health problem by 2030,” she said.

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NAFDAC recalls Benylin children syrups

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By Matthew Denis

The National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) has recalled one of Benylin Paediatric Syrups, manufactured by Johnson & Johnson.

NAFDAC disclosed this on its website on Wednesday, stating that the laboratory analysis conducted on the product showed that it contains an unacceptable high level of Diethylene glycol and was found to cause acute oral toxicity in laboratory animals.

“Diethylene glycol is toxic to humans when consumed and can prove fatal. Toxic effects can include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, inability to pass urine, headache, altered mental state, and acute kidney injury, which may lead to death,” NAFDAC explained.

Benylin Paediatric syrup is indicated for the relief of cough and its congestive symptoms and for the treatment of hay fever and other allergic conditions in children aged 2 to 12 years.

The details of the product showed that the product was manufactured by Johnson & Johnson in Cape Town, South Africa.

With batch number 329304, the product was manufactured in May 2021, and it is to expire this April 2024.

NAFDAC has, therefore, implored importers, distributors, retailers and consumers to exercise caution and vigilance within the supply chain to avoid the importation, distribution, sale and use of the substandard (contaminated) regulated products.

“All medical products must be obtained from authorised/licensed suppliers. The products’ authenticity and physical condition should be carefully checked.

“Anyone in possession of the above-mentioned product is advised to immediately discontinue sale or use and submit stock to the nearest NAFDAC office. If you witness any adverse reaction/event after the use of this product in any children, you are advised to direct such patients for immediate medical attention from a qualified healthcare professional,” the agency cautioned.

Meanwhile, NAFDAC has urged healthcare professionals and consumers to report any suspicion of substandard and falsified medicines to the nearest NAFDAC office.

Similarly, healthcare professionals and patients are also encouraged to report adverse events or side effects related to the use of the medicinal product to the nearest NAFDAC office, or through the use of the E-reporting platforms available on its website.

Also, the agency has directed the Marketing Authorisation Holder (Johnson and Johnson company West Africa) to initiate the recall of the batch and the notice will also be uploaded to the WHO Global Surveillance and Monitoring System (GSMS).

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