Cervical cancer screening coverage and its related knowledge in southern Malawi

BMC Public Health. 2022 Feb 14;22(1):295. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-12547-9.


Background: Cervical cancer (CC) is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide and Malawi has the world's highest rate of cervical cancer related mortality. Since 2016 the National CC Control Strategy has set a screening coverage target at 80% of 25-49-year-old women. The Ministry of Health and Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) set up a CC program in Blantyre City, as a model for urban areas, and Chiradzulu District, as a model for rural areas. This population-based survey aimed to estimate CC screening coverage and to understand why women were or were not screened.

Methods: A population-based survey was conducted in 2019. All resident consenting eligible women aged 25-49 years were interviewed (n = 1850) at households selected by two-stage cluster sampling. Screening and treatment coverage and facilitators and barriers to screening were calculated stratified by age, weighted for survey design. Chi square and design-based F tests were used to assess relationship between participant characteristics and screening status.

Results: The percentage of women ever screened for CC was highest in Blantyre at 40.2% (95% CI 35.1-45.5), 38.9% (95% CI 32.8-45.4) in Chiradzulu with supported CC screening services, and lowest in Chiradzulu without supported CC screening services at 25.4% (95% CI 19.9-31.8). Among 623 women screened, 49.9% (95% CI 44.0-55.7) reported that recommendation in the health facility was the main reason they were screened and 98.5% (95% CI 96.3-99.4) recommended CC screening to others. Among 1227 women not screened, main barriers were lack of time (26.0%, 95% CI 21.9-30.6), and lack of motivation (18.3%, 95% CI 14.1-23.3). Overall, 95.6% (95% CI 93.6-97.0) of women reported that they had some knowledge about CC. Knowledge of CC symptoms was low at 34.4% (95% CI 31.0-37.9) and 55.1% (95% CI 51.0-59.1) of participants believed themselves to be at risk of CC.

Conclusion: Most of the survey population had heard about CC. Despite this knowledge, fewer than half of eligible women had been screened for CC. Reasons given for not attending screening can be addressed by programs. To significantly reduce mortality due to CC in Malawi requires a comprehensive health strategy that focuses on prevention, screening and treatment.

Keywords: Barriers; Cervical cancer; Cervical cancer screening; Coverage survey; Cross sectional study; Health behaviours; Knowledge and attitude; Malawi; Precancerous lesions; Reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Malawi / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / diagnosis
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / prevention & control