Vanessa, 9, receives her HPV vaccination at school. Chiradzulu District, Malawi.
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Preventing cervical cancer in Malawi

In late January 2020, in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, MSF implemented an HPV vaccination campaign for 8,500 nine-year-old girls in the Chiradzulu district of Malawi.

2 min
Photograph by Nadia Marini
Vanessa, 9, receives her HPV vaccination at school. Chiradzulu District, Malawi. Photograph by Nadia Marini

Cervical cancer is largely preventable, and yet it is fatal for a disproportionate number of women in low- and middle-income countries. Particularly in eastern, western, middle and southern Africa, cervical cancer is the number one cause of cancer-related mortality in women. 

Effective prevention 

The most effective prevention is vaccination against a common cause of cervical cancer, the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common, sexually transmitted infection. Vaccinating girls against HPV protects them from the strongest strains of the infection which, if persistent, can develop into cervical cancer.

Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has campaigned for many years to ensure vaccinations are affordable and available to all. However, the people who need vaccinations most are often the ones who miss out, as is the case in many of the places where MSF works. By supporting vaccination campaigns for girls in countries where the number of new cases and deaths are highest, we can reduce the number of lives lost to this cancer. 

A day in the programme 

In late January 2020, MSF ran an eight-day vaccination HPV campaign in the Chiradzulu district of Malawi in conjunction with the Ministry of Health. Here, cervical cancer accounts for 40 per cent of all cancers diagnosed in women. The campaign provided vaccinations to more than 8,500 nine-year-old girls across 100 schools and 17 health centres. 

One of these schools was Lisawo Primary School, in rural Malawi. Here, we give you an inside look at this programme and introduce you to some of the brave girls receiving their vaccination. 

By ensuring HPV vaccination for girls in rural and isolated areas, MSF is helping to reduce the number of girls who may have otherwise been lost to cervical cancer.