Prevention of Cervical Cancer through Two HPV-Based Screen-and-Treat Implementation Models in Malawi: Protocol for a Cluster Randomized Feasibility Trial
Background: Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer incidence and mortality among Malawian women, despite being a largely preventable disease. Implementing a cervical cancer screening and preventive treatment (CCSPT) program that utilizes rapid human papillomavirus (HPV) testing on self-collected cervicovaginal samples for screening and thermal ablation for treatment may achieve greater coverage than current programs that use visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) for screening and cryotherapy for treatment. Furthermore, self-sampling creates the opportunity for community-based screening to increase uptake in populations with low screening rates. Malawi's public health system utilizes regularly scheduled outreach and village-based clinics to provide routine health services like family planning. Cancer screening is not yet included in these community services. Incorporating self-sampled HPV testing into national policy could address cervical cancer screening barriers in Malawi, though at present the effectiveness, acceptability, appropriateness, feasibility, and cost-effectiveness still need to be demonstrated.
Methods: We designed a cluster randomized feasibility trial to determine the effectiveness, acceptability, appropriateness, feasibility, and budget impact of two models for integrating a HPV-based CCSPT program into family planning (FP) services in Malawi: model 1 involves only clinic-based self-sampled HPV testing, whereas model 2 includes both clinic-based and community-based self-sampled HPV testing. Our algorithm involves self-collection of samples for HPV GeneXpert® testing, visual inspection with acetic acid for HPV-positive women to determine ablative treatment eligibility, and same-day thermal ablation for treatment-eligible women. Interventions will be implemented at 14 selected facilities. Our primary outcome will be the uptake of cervical cancer screening and family planning services during the 18 months of implementation, which will be measured through an Endline Household Survey. We will also conduct mixed methods assessments to understand the acceptability, appropriateness, and feasibility of the interventions, and a cost analysis to assess budget impact.
Discussion: Our trial will provide in-depth information on the implementation of clinic-only and clinic-and-community models for integrating self-sampled HPV testing CCSPT with FP services in Malawi. Findings will provide valuable insight for policymakers and implementers in Malawi and other resource-limited settings with high cervical cancer burden.