A new training program in rural Malawi is teaching women how to detect breast cancer. Breast cancer is a major health issue in Sub-Saharan Africa, with many countries seeing high mortality rates due to late diagnoses and limited access to treatments. In Malawi, breast cancer is the third most common cancer in women, with low survival rates. To address this, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland’s Institute of Global Surgery has launched a program to train frontline health workers. Over 40 practitioners recently completed the three-day breast health course, the first of its kind in the country. The program, called Akazi, aims to increase knowledge of breast cancer detection and assessment among healthcare providers in rural communities.
The program consists of three components: a national breast care assessment, services available in rural clinics, and services available in district and central hospitals. As part of the training program, healthcare providers are equipped with comprehensive knowledge of early detection and assessment of breast cancer symptoms. Chipiliro Ngolombe, the nurse in charge at Chimembe Health Centre, said they now give health talks on breast cancer alongside other antenatal services. The program has also mobilized community leaders, such as chiefs and clergy members, to raise awareness about breast cancer. As a result, almost 24,000 people in the hospital’s catchment area are now aware of the symptoms and are seeking help when they suspect any anomalies.
The initiative was inspired by the personal experience of Jakub Gajewski, co-lead of the initiative and director of research at the Institute of Global Surgery. Gajewski became concerned about the rise in breast cancer cases in Malawi and the lack of awareness and treatment options. The Institute of Global Surgery worked with Malawi’s Ministry of Health to establish a breast cancer curriculum for Kamuzu University of Health Sciences. So far, the program has trained 150 people in Blantyre and aims to expand throughout the country. Gajewski emphasizes the importance of raising awareness and providing training for early detection and diagnosis instead of relying on mass screening in a resource-limited country like Malawi.
Breast cancer in Malawi faces various challenges, including a shortage of surgeons trained to operate and oncologists to prescribe treatments. This leads to long waiting times for diagnoses and late presentations to healthcare providers. Victor Mithi, president of the Society of Medical Doctors in Malawi, commends the Akazi project for raising awareness among women about breast cancer and the importance of early medical care. He believes that through education and training, healthcare providers will also become more aware and prioritize breast cancer detection. Overall, the program aims to address the shortage of resources and functional systems to provide timely and effective care for breast cancer in Malawi.