Cervical cancer vaccine in Malawi Govt’s strategic plan

The long awaited cervical cancer vaccine is in the Ministry of Health’s 2011-16 strategic plan and that it may be introduced on pilot basis by 2015 to 2016 as stated in the plan.

Malawi cancer registry’s report of 2010 points out that cervical cancer is the most common cancer among women accounting for 45 percent of all cancers followed by Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The report indicates that there are four million women aged 15 and above who are at risk of having contracted cervical cancer and that an estimated 1,236 new cases may occur.

VP Khumbo Kachali, Malawi's Health minister

According to the source, MoH is working together with the Ministry of Education through the School of Health and Nutrition Programme and the Global alliance for Vaccine (GAVI) – who are willing to donate the vaccine.

“The vaccine is given to girls before they indulge into sex or before they get infected. In Malawi, it has been proposed that it should be given to girls aged between 8 and 12 years,” disclosed the source.

Cervical cancer is caused by Human Papiloma Virus (HPV). It is spread through sexual intercourse with men as carriers.

HPV forms an association with HIV virus hence HIV positive women are at a higher risk of developing cervical cancer than HIV negative women. There are several types of HPV and not all of them have a vaccine. But the most common ones are HPV 16 and HPV 18 which have a combined vaccine.

Director of Non-communicable diseases at the World Health Organization (Malawi), Dr Kellias Msyamboza told Mana in an interview that WHO estimates that every year, 2,316 women develop cervical cancer and 1,621 die from the disease in Malawi.

“This suggests that the number of new cases registered in health facilities in Malawi is only half of the actual problem at community level,” he said.

Malawi government and other partners are doing a lot by making cervical cancer screening services available in public and CHAM facilities.

Women aged 20 to 50 years are encouraged to go for cervical cancer check up at least once in every five years.

Malawi’s only Oncologist, Dr Leo Masamba said the introduction of a vaccine for cervical cancer is a good idea in the fight against the disease.

“The vaccine will mostly benefit the younger generation since it is given to girls who are not yet sexually active. Those who are sexually active have a chance to go for screening at any hospital,” he said.

If cervical cancer is identified early, it is treatable even at district hospital level. Almost all district hospitals have been equipped to screen and treat cervical cancer if detected at an early stage.

Currently, the HPV vaccine is routinely given in Europe such as the United Kingdom. In Africa it was introduced on pilot basis in Uganda.

The vaccine is said to be very expensive because it is given outside the routine immunization programme.

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