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Improving cervical cancer rates in Malawi through cell phones

U.S. researchers have been at working on developing a process map considering how to address the problems they found in Malawi.

Cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer affecting women in Rwanda
Cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer affecting women in Rwanda - Copyright AFP John MACDOUGALL
Cervical cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer affecting women in Rwanda - Copyright AFP John MACDOUGALL

Public health students have recently visited Malawi in order to assess problems in care for cervical cancer. To focus is to promote ways for women to receive proper healthcare in a nation that leads the world in cervical cancer cases.

Included in the delegation were Sam Rodgers and Stephanie Hernandez, both Master of Public Health students at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, U.S. Their assessment put a particular emphasis on screening and treatment for the high incidence of cervical cancer. These are problems exacerbated by transportation and communication difficulties.

Rogers has observed that “while the Malawi University of Science Technology has a great biomedical engineering department, it doesn’t have a public health department”. This does not help with high rates of cervical cancer. Rogers notes that the country has tried to make some adjustments and change, and none of it has worked.

The Virginia-Maryland College team assessed the continuum of care from home to hospital in the country, especially in looking at how patients get from very rural communities of mostly subsistence farmers to health clinics and district hospitals and the level of care available from mobile outreach clinics.

The main challenges that Hernandez and Rodgers identified related to difficulties in transportation and communication.

For example, it was noted that when clinics opened at 8 a.m., almost no women would arrive at until mid- to late morning because as a consequence of the distances involved, the limited means of transportation, plus the time they needed for morning home responsibilities.

The U.S. researchers have been at working on developing a process map considering how to address the problems they found in Malawi.

One of the solutions proposed is creating a text messaging system to deliver healthy messages about cervical cancer for women in rural communities. While families in poorer, rural communities do not always have running water or electricity, most people have cell phones. The widespread use of mobile technologies can potentially expand the use of telemedicine approaches to facilitate communication between healthcare providers and the community.

The second step is to create an educational module on cervical cancer for health surveillance assistants, who are the health workers who live in local communities. The third area is where Hernandez and Rodgers want to close the communication gap in hospitals, especially between biomedical engineers and physicians. This includes an offline web app inventory database for hospitals to use to keep track of what equipment is available and how it can be used properly.

The activities undertaken demonstrate the strength of community-based, do community-oriented outreach initiatives.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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