'I Am And I Will': Malawi Strengthens Cervical Cancer Programming
For the past two years, the USAID- and PEPFAR-funded Health Policy Plus (HP+) project has been supporting Malawi’s Reproductive Health Directorate and the Department of HIV/AIDS, to work together to implement and monitor the national cervical cancer program. Malawi has the second highest incidence of cervical cancer globally, and within the country, it is the most common cancer in women and the cause of the most cancer deaths. Women who are HIV-positive are at higher risk for cervical cancer and often experience more aggressive cases of the disease.
The country’s Cervical Cancer Strategy aims to improve primary and secondary prevention (through HPV vaccination and safe sex education, as well as screening and treatment of precancerous lesions) and tertiary treatment to reduce the incidence of the disease and improve outcomes for Malawi’s girls and women. As part of its overarching National Cancer Strategy, Malawi is organizing around this year’s World Cancer Day theme: ‘I AM AND I WILL,’ a call to action for people to personally commit to reducing the impact of cancer.
With technical support from HP+ and other partners, the Department of HIV/AIDS and the Reproductive Health Directorate, formed a taskforce to develop and disseminate quality assurance standard operating procedures and guidelines for health workers on how to screen for and treat cervical cancer. These monitoring and evaluation tools were integrated into the country’s health information system last October. Data management and program monitoring systems are already being used, with data on indicators available for decision making at national and district levels. Over 180 health facilities have received equipment to allow them to offer screening and treatment to women, and linkages and referrals for specialized treatment and care have also been strengthened.
HP+ is supporting the taskforce and partner ITECH to develop a comprehensive training curriculum and approach for health workers, as well as strengthening the integration of cervical cancer services into sexual and reproductive health and HIV services to improve service accessibility. The Ministry of Health and Population conducts routine supportive supervision visits and spot-checks to over 300 facilities providing cervical cancer services countrywide, to ensure that clinical providers are following the standard operating procedures, using the data collection tools, and operating the equipment correctly.
In December 2019, the cervical cancer program taskforce officially transitioned from a short-term team to a permanent Subcommittee of the Safe Motherhood Technical Working Group within the Ministry of Health and Population, to sustain its coordination and oversight role well into the future. Thanks to the achievements of this group, Malawi is already seeing increased demand and improved uptake of screening services among women across the country. On this World Cancer Day, Malawi’s commitment to act is already leading to progress that will reduce the burden of this largely preventable disease by empowering more women with access to increased services.