Stopping Malawi’s Silent Killer of Women: VIA Days

A Special Report from Dr. Sue Makin

Thursdays are special days here at Daeyang Luke Hospital. They are our “VIA days”. VIA (short for visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid” is a screening test used to prevent the most common cancer in women in Malawi, cervical cancer. Tackling cervical cancer is one of the major battles in women’s health in Malawi, and one that we at the Miracle for Africa Foundation are ready to take on. Leading the charge in this work is a team of five: Regina Chizungule CHMN, Doreen Phiri EN, Kelvin Sikandze CHMN, Rose Mwangonde NMT, and myself, Dr. Sue Makin OB/GYN.

Dr. Sue Makin with the VIA team
Me with the VIA team

Cancer of the cervix is a terrible disease. It can have no symptoms or signs for 10 to 20 years, even though abnormal changes in the cells could be taking place. This means a woman with the disease may not seek the help of a doctor or a nurse. Consequently, many women come for help when the disease is at a late stage and very difficult to treat.

How does VIA help?

VIA allows for early detection of abnormal cells on the cervix. It is a simple, inexpensive, painless and effective test to prevent cancer, and one of our most valuable tools in tackling this threat to women’s health in Malawi. If the VIA test is positive, then abnormal cells are present, and the cells can be easily destroyed by a simple procedure called cold coagulation.

Our hospital offers both the screening test and cold coagulation weekly. The test costs K300 within our catchment area or K500 outside our catchment area. The cold coagulation treatment is free.

Over the past three years 1,731 women have had VIA done. 182 of these women had a positive result for abnormal cells. We successfully treated 179 of these women with cold coagulation, preventing the future development of many cases of cancer.

Among the total group screened, 33 of the women had a suspicious result that led to concern for invasive cervical cancer. In response, women were offered treatment or referral based on the stage of their disease.

This work is incredibly important but also very taxing and difficult for our health care workers. Some barely have time for a drink of water or a visit to the bathroom. This does not stop our faithful VIA providers from being on the job every Thursday. This does not stop their fight against this silent killer of women in Malawi.