Cervical cancer is a critical public health issue in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), where it is the second leading cause of cancer among women and the leading cause of female cancer deaths. Incidence and mortality rates are substantially higher than in high-income countries with population-based screening programs, yet implementing screening programs in SSA has so far proven to be challenging due to financial, logistical, and sociocultural factors. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination is an effective approach for primary prevention of cervical cancer and presents an opportunity to reduce the burden from cervical cancer in SSA. With a number of SSA countries now eligible for Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) support for vaccine introduction, it is timely to consider the factors that impede and facilitate implementation of vaccine programs in SSA. This article describes epidemiological features of cervical cancer in SSA and the current status of HPV vaccine implementation in SSA countries. Rwanda’s experience of achieving high vaccination coverage in their national HPV immunization program is used as a case study to explore effective approaches to the design and implementation of HPV vaccination programs in SSA. Key factors in Rwanda’s successful implementation included government ownership and support for the program, school-based delivery, social mobilization, and strategies for reaching out-of-school girls. These findings might usefully be applied to other SSA countries planning for HPV vaccination.
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