AHETI’s Strategic Initiative on HPV Vaccination Uptake

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Cervical cancer starkly underscores the pervasive health inequities that exist between Africa and other parts of the world. With approximately 119,000 new cases and 81,000 deaths annually, Africa bears a disproportionate burden of the global cervical cancer crisis. In contrast, more developed regions have significantly lower incidence and mortality rates due to widespread access to preventive measures such as the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and regular screening programs. For instance, countries with high vaccination and screening coverage, like those in North America and Western Europe, report dramatically lower rates of cervical cancer—demonstrating how effective these interventions can be when accessible.

Image From: Barriers and facilitators of HPV vaccination in sub-saharan Africa: a systematic review
Barriers (A) and facilitators (B) for HPV vaccination in sub-Saharan Africa

Despite the proven efficacy of these preventive measures, only 15% of eligible girls in Africa receive the full course of the HPV vaccine, as reported by the World Health Organization. This low uptake is compounded by cultural taboos, misinformation, systemic barriers, and limited healthcare infrastructure, which are not as prevalent in more developed countries.

The African-Jesuits driven Africa Health and Economic Transformation Initiative (AHETI), inspired by the Jesuit mission and particularly focused on the second Jesuit universal apostolic preference (UAP), “Walking with the Excluded,” aims to confront this glaring disparity. By mobilizing the extensive and trusted network of faith leaders and faith communities, AHETI seeks to enhance vaccine accessibility and acceptance, directly tackling the health inequities that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable segments of society—thus embodying the Jesuit commitment to justice and dignity for all.

As a Jesuit-driven initiative, the Africa Health and Economic Transformation Initiative (AHETI) is deeply committed to the ethos of cura personalis, or care for the entire person, which extends to the health and well-being of communities we serve. By leveraging the extensive network and trusted voice of the Jesuit community and of faith leaders, AHETI is uniquely positioned to promote HPV vaccination effectively. This approach not only aligns with the Jesuit focus on inspired action for justice informed action but also embodies the commitment to protect life and dignity, particularly of those most vulnerable. Thus, enhancing HPV vaccine uptake through this initiative is not just a medical response—it is a moral imperative to save lives and reduce suffering, reflecting the core Jesuit values of justice, faith, and compassion.

Recognising the influential role of religious leaders in African communities, AHETI has specifically tailored programs to educate and empower these leaders. Through our Theological Reflection Group, we provide religious leaders with scientifically accurate information and theological insights that support the moral and ethical imperatives of HPV vaccination. This initiative fosters faith-based advocacy, enabling leaders to promote health messages that resonate deeply with their congregations.

AHETI has established five specialised working groups, each focusing on a key aspect of the vaccination campaign: research, knowledge production, community engagement strategies, communication and advocacy, and theological reflection. These groups collaborate to create a holistic approach that addresses both medical and cultural dimensions of health education and vaccine uptake.

Our Community Engagement Strategies Group develops and implements tailored approaches to increase awareness and acceptance of HPV vaccination. By understanding and integrating the cultural and social dynamics specific to each community, AHETI ensures that engagement strategies are respectful, effective, and sustainable

The Communication, Advocacy, and Policy Recommendations Group at AHETI crafts sensitive and impactful communication strategies that address prevalent vaccine hesitancy and misinformation. This group also advocates for policy changes that support increased access to and uptake of the HPV vaccine, working closely with health authorities and policymakers to improve vaccination coverage.

To ensure the effectiveness of our campaigns, AHETI has established robust mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating the impact of our communication and advocacy efforts on vaccine uptake and cervical cancer incidence. This data-driven approach allows us to continuously refine our strategies and interventions, ensuring they are aligned with the needs and realities on the ground.

The Africa Health and Economic Transformation Initiative (AHETI) is addressing these disparities by partnering with sister-led Catholic hospitals and schools across the continent. Leveraging the deep trust and commitment of these sisters, who are often at the forefront of healthcare delivery in their communities, AHETI aims to enhance the accessibility and acceptance of the HPV vaccine. The dedicated spirit and trusted presence of these sisters in their communities are invaluable in overcoming scepticism and building confidence in vaccination programs. Through these partnerships, AHETI not only amplifies the reach and impact of health interventions but also strengthens the capacity of sister-led institutions to serve as pivotal change agents in their communities.

AHETI, in collaboration with the Jesuit Justice and Ecology Network-Africa (JENA) and other partners, is dedicated to a future where no African woman dies from a preventable disease like cervical cancer. By harnessing the power of faith-based leadership and community engagement, and underpinned by rigorous research and policy advocacy, we are making significant strides towards increasing HPV vaccine uptake and saving lives across Africa.

We invite partners, stakeholders, and communities to join us in this vital work. Together, we can transform the landscape of women’s health in Africa, promoting a healthier future for all. For more information on how to get involved or support our initiatives, please contact our program office.

Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make a difference.

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