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Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) is the only form of cervical cancer screening affordable to most underprivileged women in Malawi.

Vinegar Pap Smear Saving Women’s Lives In Malawi

This simple diagnostic test is giving hope to thousands of women in Malawi.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and in Malawi, the need for inexpensive Pap smears has resulted in a cost-effective and ingenious solution. Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid (VIA) is the only form of cervical cancer screening affordable to most underprivileged women in Malawi, according to reports.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) "19 of the top 20 countries with the highest cervical cancer burden were in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018." Eswatini had the highest incidences followed by Malawi.

The VIA is a simple diagnostic test that can be used to screen cervical cancer, as an alternative to Pap smear cytology, in low-resource countries," according to the Role of VIA in cervical cancer screening in low-resource countries - PubMed (nih.gov) study.


The procedure is simple, and the administrators require minimum training. A piece of cotton wool drenched in vinegar is used to brush the cervix. If the lesions in the area turn white, there is a chance that precancerous cells are present. These cells are then treated "using cold coagulation treatment."

Both the procedure and the treatment are relatively pain free, and only take a few minutes to administer.

Although the traditional Pap smear cytology test is considered the gold standard in screening for cervical cancer, many women in under-resourced countries are not able to access the tests. While cervical cancer can be treated effectively, early detection is key.

This simple, affordable test has the potential to save the lives of millions of women in developing and underdeveloped countries.

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Photo: Aisha Asamany

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