Background: Africa is home to many countries with the highest incidence of cervical cancer in the world. It is encouraging to see that the efforts to prevent and manage this disease are intensifying across the continent. The World Health Organization (WHO) has, in the last years, led a world-wide initiative to eliminate cervical cancer as a public health problem, starting by setting clear targets for 2030.
Aim: To assist those African countries with the largest burden of cervical cancer, to reach the set targets, as a first step, WHO initiated a baseline capacity assessment in African high burden countries. We present and discuss the results thereof in this paper.
Method: The countries selected for the baseline evaluation were Eswatini, Guinea, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda and Zambia. The data were collected by a mailed questionnaire in English, with 129 questions, most of them with preset answer options. It was answered by national coordinators of non-communicable diseases, cancer control or reproductive health programmes in the ministries of health and by the WHO country representatives. Based on the answers, suggestions were made towards optimising the efforts for cancer control.
Results: Except for Eswatini and Guinea, vaccination against the human papilloma virus (HPV) has reached between 74% and 98% of girls in the age bracket. The main method for cervical screening is still inspection with acid acetic. HPV testing, recommended by WHO, is being introduced slowly. The numbers of women screened are not yet nearing the required levels. Between 30% and 70% of the cervical cancers diagnosed are being treated with palliative intent. A deficit of personnel was reported for all professions involved in cervical cancer care.
Conclusions: Guinea will need assistance to implement HPV immunisations and expand screening. In all six countries surveyed, steps should be taken to introduce or scale up the more precise HPV screening instead of acid acetic inspection of the cervix, to replace the current cryoablation of the preinvasive lesions of the cervix with thermal ablation and to increase the capacity for screening. Solutions need to be found for covering the dearth in gynaecological oncologists and radiotherapy installations and personnel.