[Blantyre – 8 March 2023] HPV vaccination of young girls between 9 and 14 years old is the most effective way to prevent cervical cancer among women at adulthood, according to World Health Organization recommendations. This catch-up vaccination campaign, targeting 65,000 young girls in the Machinga district, is supported by the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
“Everyone has a role to play, including parents who through sensitization, can help in the fight against cervical cancer which starts with prevention such as HPV vaccination. The collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education is crucial in providing vital information to parents and access to this vaccine for young girls in school with the help of health providers and educators,” explains Alice Authier, MSF deputy Head of mission in Malawi.
Malawi has the second highest mortality rate related to cervical cancer in the world, with 51.5 deaths per 100,000 people per year—seven times the global rate. The need for prevention therefore remains a top priority to reduce the cancer burden for women in the country. In most cases, the disease is triggered by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is most commonly transmitted during sexual intercourse. To prevent infection, the vaccine must be given prior to HPV exposure, meaning before the targeted population becomes sexually active.
Currently, one of the most effective ways to reach these young girls on a large scale and prevent them from contracting the virus is to offer the vaccine at their schools. To achieve this, MSF has been supporting the Ministry of Health since the beginning of the year to help vaccinate most of the 65,000 girls aged 9 to 14 years old in Machinga district schools. Awareness and training on the need and use of the HPV vaccine has been provided to 30 District Environment Office Supervisors and 50 District Health Surveillance Assistants. Along with Head Teachers and School Health Teachers from 240 public and private schools in Machinga, 485 Health Surveillance Assistants were also involved in raising awareness among parents on the HPV vaccine and helped organize the vaccination. The catch-up campaign began in Machinga on 20 February and continued to 22 February 2023. It will resume from 8 to 9 March 2023.
“This vaccination campaign has been quite successful, and we have reached 42,000 girls so far. We had to first do a lot of work with our partners to speak to people in the community to raise awareness and acceptance around HPV vaccination. There is a large gap to close in terms of HPV vaccination in the country and we have only been able to reach young girls who attend school. So, we are also calling for a strategy to be developed to reach all the other girls who are not in school,” explains Robert Wellemu, who supports MSF’s Medical Coordination.
Since 2017, MSF has been developing a comprehensive cervical cancer program in Malawi with the ambition of improving the access to vaccination, screening, early diagnosis, treatment and – if needed, palliative care, for the women in the southern region of Malawi. HPV vaccination remains the most effective way to reduce the burden of cervical cancer and protect the next generation. It should therefore be accessible nationwide for girls aged the 9-14 years old in Malawi on a yearly basis.
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Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) translates to Doctors without Borders. We provide medical assistance to people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or exclusion from healthcare. Médecins Sans Frontières has been present in Malawi since 1986, providing HIV/TB services in Chiradzulu district and nation-wide emergency medical relief services in the context of natural disasters or outbreaks. In 2017 in collaboration with Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre, MSF developed a comprehensive cervical cancer project in partnership with the District Health Offices of Blantyre and Chiradzulu and Queen Elizabeth Hospital.