Getting Tested for Cervical Cancer in Malawi

why it matters and what to expect

Mary Kadzola, Nurse at Kasese Health Center

Malawi has the highest cervical cancer incidence and mortality rate in the world, BMC Public Health reported in 2015. This means more women get cervical cancer in Malawi than anywhere else in the world. And more women in Malawi die from it, too. One of the main challenges in Malawi is late diagnosis. Late diagnosis is often caused by lack of information about testing. As a trusted healthcare provider in rural Malawi, Orant is here to answer all the questions you might have.

What is cervical cancer?

Cancer happens when cells begin to grow out of control. Cervical cancer starts in the lower part of the womb that connects to the birth canal. It is most common in women 30 years of age and older. If found early, it’s highly treatable. In its early stages, cervical cancer doesn’t have many symptoms. This is why screening is so important. If not treated, the cancer can spread out of the cervix and affect other tissues and organs.

Who should get tested?

All women who are sexually active. At Orant, we screen HIV positive people every year; HIV negative people every three years.

What does screening look like?

Orant’s Kasese Health Center provides screenings every Friday. Like many healthcare providers in Malawi, Orant uses VIA screening. VIA stands for Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid. The process is simple and painless. Orant nurse Mary Kadzola is carefully trained to identify VIA results. The patient’s cervix is swabbed with 3% to 5% acetic acid solution, which is essentially just table vinegar. To ensure the patient’s comfortability, Mary explains each step of the process. The screening takes place in a completely private room.

How much does testing in Malawi cost?

Testing at Orant’s Health Clinic is free. Testing is also free at all government hospitals and clinics. Private hospitals and clinics charge anywhere from 500 MWK to 2000 MWK.

What helps prevent cervical cancer?

    • Regular screenings at a healthcare facility with trained professionals
    • Limiting exposure to HPV by: 
      • Limiting number of sexual partners 
      • Practicing safe sex with condoms 
      • Avoiding sex with people who’ve had many sexual partners 
      • Avoiding sex with people infected with genital warts or other abnormalities 
    • Not smoking

How is cervical cancer treated in Malawi?

Orant treats cervical cancer with thermal coagulation. This treatment uses a small device to destroy lesions with heat.

We also refer anyone with lesions on their cervix to Kamuzu Central Hospital. We give these patients money for transportation, biopsy, monitoring, and assessment for up to 3 years. At the hospital, they receive further screening and biopsy.

Taking control of your body’s health is a sign of strength and self-compassion.

Get tested. Tell your friends, mothers, and sisters to get tested. Take care of yourself and each other. Cervical cancer is treatable.

Read about patient Glyceria Selemani’s strength and self-compassion here.

 

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