Cervical cancer claimed 51.5 per 100,000 women in 2023

Minister Chiponda calls for concerted efforts to eliminate the disease

Malawi lost 51.5 per 100, 000 women to cervical cancer in 2023 alone, placing the disease among the most dangerous health burdens in the country.

This has prompted the Minister of Health Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda to call for greater and enhanced collaboration between the government and its partners to eliminate the disease.

Chiponda made the call when she opened the 2024 National Cervical Cancer Symposium at the Bingu International Convention Centre in Lilongwe on Thursday. The symposium was held under the theme: Eliminating cervical cancer: what is the future?

The symposium is the first of its kind, which aimed to secure government, donor and private sector commitments to eliminate cervical cancer in Malawi.

Chiponda disclosed that Malawi has one of the highest burdens of cervical cancers in the world, with age standardised incidence and mortality rates of 67.9 and 51.5 per 100, 000 women respectively as reported in 2023.

She said women living with HIV are heavily affected by the disease.

“This disease affects all women and it’s our collective responsibility to eliminate this disease,” she said.

Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). According to World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women globally, with around 660 000 new cases and around 350 000 deaths recorded in 2022.

Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda addressing journalists at one of the recent events
Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda addressing journalists at one of the recent events

If the globe will not change course, annual deaths from cervical cancer are projected to reach 410,000 by 2030. The highest rates of cervical cancer incidence and mortality are in low- and middle-income countries, and which Malawi is one of them. This reflects major inequities driven by lack of access to national HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening and treatment services.

The Government of Malawi has recently made a number of commitments towards the elimination of cervical cancer and Chiponda said following these commitments, the country has made progress to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem by the year 2030.

She cited routinization of the HPV vaccine, scale up of cervical cancer screening services, scaling up of HPV DNA PCR testing to all districts, and improving tertiary care services i.e. surgery, histopathology, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

She also highlighted demand creation and community awareness on cervical cancer prevention and management, utilization of key community gatekeepers to advocate for uptake of cervical cancer services and interventions and integration of cervical cancer services with other services for scale up such as HIV and other Sexual Reproductive Health Rights services.

“[But] despite the achievements made, Malawi Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control Program faces challenges such as low HPV vaccination coverage, mostly because of the transition from the campaign to routine vaccine delivery approach hasn’t been smooth. HPV DNA PCR testing has not yet been scaled up widely across the country due to limitation of funding,” said the minister.

Chiponda therefore appealed to relevant arms of government, such as Parliament, Treasury, Ministry of Education, stakeholders, development partners and the entire donor community, the private sector, and all players in the health sector to work together towards achieving the cervical cancer elimination targets and goal by the year 2030.

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