For cervical cancer awareness month, some of our Youth Advisory Panel* members in Tanzania and Ethiopia reflect on the challenges and barriers young people face when it comes to accessing health services, and share their message to raise awareness of the life-saving HPV vaccine.

The HPV vaccine is safe and highly effective at protecting girls against cervical cancer. The HPV virus is responsible for more than 95% of cervical cancers, so the vaccine hugely reduces the risk of developing the cancer later in life.

However, in Ethiopia and Tanzania, this incredible benefit is not reaching every girl. Myths, rumors and socio-cultural barriers limit girls’ uptake of the HPV vaccine even when it is readily available.

This is why Girl Effect has partnered with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance in Ethiopia and Tanzania to increase uptake of HPV and routine vaccines, by creating youth-centered content which will help create demand for vaccination amongst young people and address the gender barriers that stand in the way.

For cervical cancer awareness month, we spoke to some of our Youth Advisory Panel members in Tanzania and Ethiopia – who are all helping to inform our work with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance – so they could share some insights and ideas for cervical cancer awareness month. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Q: Why are young people’s opinions and ideas so important?

A: It is important to involve young people in designing solutions because Youth is the part of our lives that builds our character. The solutions and responsibilities that we take up and learn in this period of our life shapes our future – Ally, 21, Tanzania

A: It is hard for young people to be heard, especially girls, because they have been left behind in so many things. They have been downgraded, which makes them lose confidence to talk. So we cannot hear their voices – Rahma, 22, Tanzania

A: Listening to young people’s voices is important because it helps understand why girls are not getting vaccinated and the awareness levels of young people with respect to cervical cancer and the vaccine – Hana, 17, Ethiopia

A: It is very important. Because if we know the understanding and attitudes of young people about the HPV vaccine, it will help us know what they want and how to reach them – Sisay, 20, Ethiopia

Q: What can make it difficult to be a girl in your country when it comes to health?

A: When it comes to health, there are many difficulties like improper sanitation and self-care, malnutrition, low access to health centers, lack of health-related knowledge, heavy workload, fear of talking about sexual and reproductive health, and lack of education – Hewan, 20, Ethiopia

A: What makes it difficult to be a girl, especially in Tanzania, when it comes to health issues is a lack of insights concerning health, especially sexual reproductive health. Also poor perceptions and the attitude of society – Theodosiah, 21, Tanzania

Q: What barriers do you think stand in the way of girls getting the HPV vaccine?

A: The first and foremost barrier that stands in the way is inadequate knowledge or information on the matter of HPV, which makes girls confused and uncertain about the vaccine. The other thing is that vaccine distribution is only limited to urban areas and the shortage is a barrier – Hizkyas, 16, Ethiopia

A: Young women in rural parts of the country often do not have any source of information from which they can hear and understand about any health information, such as TV, radio, mobile phones – Yordi, 22, Ethiopia

Q: What makes you excited about helping other girls learn more about the HPV vaccine, and encouraging everyone who needs it to get vaccinated?

A: While there are so many opportunities to learn about problems around the world, I’m excited not to be a voice of doom and negativity but that of hope and a solution. There are so many scary diseases out there that make it seem like an unending cycle of fear and concern, but encouraging other girls about the HPV vaccine makes it one less disease to worry about for them – Edlawit, 21, Ethiopia

A: What makes me excited about helping other girls learn more about the HPV vaccine is encouraging everyone who needs it to get vaccinated… so that through HPV vaccination girls can be protected against HPV – Ally, 21, Tanzania

A: As a Youth Advisory Panel, we are assisting Girl Effect in making the environment a safer place for girls in every possible aspect… Raising awareness on the importance of vaccinations and promoting for all those who require is a crucial step in our journey – Jina, 21, Ethiopia

A: Being able to motivate young girls to take this vaccine gives me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in terms of helping my community towards change. And I believe in giving young people could have better solutions and a better idea – Zelalem, 22, Ethiopia

Q: For cervical awareness month, what one message would you like to share and why?

A: The message I would like to share during the cervical month awareness is that “before dying we have to live”. Encouraging the HPV vaccine for girls at the required age is also lifting them to reaching and living their dreams healthier – Theodosiah, 21, Tanzania

A: I am focused on raising awareness to my community concerning health issues because being healthy is wealthy. I find it vital to recommend other girls to learn about the HPV Vaccine and to get vaccinated in order to [prevent] cervical cancer – Rahma, 22, Tanzania

*About our Youth Advisory Panels: Over the past year, Girl Effect has launched Youth Advisory Panels (YAPs) in Ethiopia and Tanzania, as well as a global YAP that spans seven countries. Our goal is to increase the involvement of young people in our decision-making processes and to provide them with genuine possibilities to shape our work as our thought partners and collaborators.