Carol Gonawamba, a fourth-year engineering student at the Malawi Polytechnic now appreciates the significance of screening for different reproductive cancers.
She got the insights from a sexual and reproductive health conference organised by the Improved Midwifery Care Access Initiative (IMCAI) last weekend, targeting female Polytechnic students.
“We had talks about three main problems that are on the increase in women and girls in Malawi- cervical cancer, breast cancer and syphilis as a sexually transmitted infection.
“We also talked about menstrual problems. Cervical cancer is caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) which also causes warts. So, we now know the significance of going for screening after every three years,” she said.
The women’s representation for Polytechnic Students Union Modester Mtapaonga agreed there were a number of things female students did not know about cervical or breast cancer.
She said the conference enlightened them about causes and how to prevent them.
“We didn’t know the connection between cervical cancer and sex, but now we know that having many sexual partners can put one at risk. We also didn’t know that breast feeding can help reduce one’s risk of contracting breast cancer.
“As future mothers, now we know that breast feeding is also for our own advantage. Most educated women are at a risk since they breast feed for a few months and some don’t even give it a try. They want to get back to work soon after delivering,” she said.
In addition, Mtapaonga said diets can also contribute to breast cancer with more fats contributing to production of Oestrogen which is connected to the start of breast cancer.
She advises women and girls to watch their diets to control the level of fats.
In addition, she says women ought to be careful with the use of some contraceptives with high Oestrogen content.
The facilitator, Wilnerd Hara said this was the second conference in a series of conferences that have been planned to be conducted across the country.
“The first one was at Chancellor College [Chanco] months ago. The Polytechnic Females Conference was prepared in response to the statistics and findings by different organisations and individuals which puts Malawi in a bleak light in as far as sexual and reproductive health is concerned, mostly breast cancers, cervical cancers and menstruation related problems. Malawi has the highest death rates from these problems,” he noted.
He said the conference was aimed at exploring what may cause these problems and why they are growing among modern women who are educated or career driven, coupled by attempts to find a solution at an individual level to reduce the risk of these problems.
Hara further noted that Malawi has poor health statistics largely because of its focus on treatments as opposed to prevention.
However, he said the country does not have resources to treat many complicated conditions that are otherwise preventable.
“We have, therefore, decided to intensify health education across the nation on topics that relate to women sexual, reproductive and maternal health as soon as we have proper funding and support,” he said.
This journey begun with a book he published last year, Family Guide to Safe Motherhood and continues in different forms of teaching communities of different ages and classes.