Putting an end to cervical cancer in Malawi

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the country
Girls in Malawi
Secondary School girls wait for the arrival for a visit of US Pop Star Madonna at Home of Hope Children’s Home, in Mchinji District is pictured April 3, 2013. Madonna, said to be the single largest international philanthropic donor to Malawi, also supports childcare in the country which is home to nearly a million children orphaned by AIDS. She arrived in Malawi on March 31 with the two children she adopted from the small landlocked African country. AFP PHOTO / AMOS GUMULIRA (Photo by AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP)

Malawi is one of 45 landlocked countries in the world. It is a land rich in tradition and scenic landscapes. However, this land of mountains, blue lakes and white waters also has the highest rate of cervical cancer in the world.

In response to this unflattering statistic, a pilot immunization project was launched in 2013. The government has followed this up with a massive vaccination campaign against the leading causes of cervical cancer, the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The vaccination campaign is funded by Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), with support from UNICEF, World Health Organization and Clinton Health Access Initiative.

Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the country, with about 3,600 new cases and 2,000 deaths annually. For a country of 17 million, treatment for cancer is extremely burdensome for the country’s 2 oncologists. This campaign would protect over 1.5 million girls between the ages of 9 – 14, and reduce the number of lives lost to the disease in the near future.

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UNICEF’s immunization specialist, Steve Macheso explained that the vaccine helps prevent the development of cervical cancer in later years, even if the virus is contracted later.

Unfortunately, the campaign does not cover or protect older women from the disease. This means the impact of the vaccination campaign will not have a clear impact on statistics until the vaccinated girls are much older.

The government in Malawi is taking deliberate steps to fight the disease. Along with the vaccination campaign, there are plans to set up the country’s first cancer centre in Lilongwe.

Hopefully the scourge of cervical cancer would be a thing of the past in Malawi.

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