Ministry of Health says limited access to cervical cancer services and misconceptions are limiting factors to cervical cancer screening, particularly for rural women in the country.
Responding to an e-mailed questionnaire, the ministry’s technical adviser on cervical cancer James Kachingwe said Malawi has 450 facilities that provide cervical cancer screening, but some of them do not provide the services fully.
However, he was quick to point that the ministry is working towards scaling up the services to make them readily available to all.
Kachingwe encouraged women to seize every opportunity and get screened, adding that early screening and treatment of lesions can save lives.
Last year, the ministry targeted to screen 617 775 women aged between 25 and 49. However, only 222 076 were screened due to unavailability of services in some health centres.
Said Kachingwe: “Besides limited access, there are misconceptions and myths that prevent women from getting screened for cervical cancer.
“Some women think screening for cervical cancer is painful, but it is a painless procedure.”
As an intervention to fight cervical cancer, government in 2019 introduced HPV vaccine to be administered to girls from nine years. To be fully protected, the girls are required to take two injectable doses at six months intervals.
The vaccine is offered in all health facilities and primary schools.
Hannah Hausi, immunisation adviser at JSI, a global public health institution that supported the Ministry of Health in both the introduction and implementation of the HPV vaccine, said in 2021, about 36 402 girls received dose 1 and 32 356 got dose 2.
“It’s an ongoing routine administration through schools and health facilities. The nine-year-old girls can get the vaccine for free anytime from any facility and quarterly in schools,” she said.
Hausi also said boys are not offered the HPV vaccine because it was introduced to reduce the burden of cervical cancer, which affects women only.
She agreed with Kachingwe that myths and misconceptions are a stumbling block to the efforts, adding that some mistaken the HPV vaccine for Covid-19 while others mistake it for contraceptives.