Screening for cervical cancer has quadrupled since the First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa partnered the Health ministry in a cancer awareness campaign, with 20 000 women being screened in the month of February against 5 000 in the same period in 2017, a government official has claimed.
By Phyllis Mbanje
Briefing the media in Chinhoyi recently, Health and Child Care ministry family health director Bernard Madzima said screening for cancer was key in the prevention of the disease, which now has more fatalities than HIV and Aids-related illnesses.
“We are very grateful for the commitment that the First Lady has shown in the cancer fight. We cannot do it if there is no political will to back up the actions on the ground,” he said.
Since February this year, the First Lady has been on a blazing trail, calling on women to be screened for cervical cancer, including those in the rural areas, who are often without means to access the screening facilities.
The magnitude of the disease cannot be overlooked, with frightening statistics, indicating that each year, over 2 200 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer alone.
“Of that figure, 63,9% died in 2014. That is unacceptable. Women present late for screening which renders treatment almost useless,” Madzima said.
Surveys have shown that many women still shy away from early screening and only do so in advanced stages of the disease when not much can be done to reverse the effect.
“That is why we are encouraging screening. If detected early, it has been proved that a substantial number of the cases can be treated successfully, with a number of option treatment plans available,” he said.
More than 100 sites countrywide are now offering Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Camera [VIAC] screening with an option to treat potential cancerous cells if detected.
To date over 300 000 women have been screened and this is just 10% of the target of three million women by 2020.
“Zimbabwe is among the top 10 countries with a huge cancer burden. This is worsened by the fact that there is not much funding towards cancer,” he said.
Cancer treatment is quite expensive and this becomes a barrier to those who genuinely need treatment.
There have been calls for the government to subsidise cancer treatment and alleviate the burden on the patient.
“It is heart-breaking to screen someone and not be able to provide treatment as required. This is our major drawback on all the work being done,” Madzima said.
Meanwhile, available equipment for cancer treatment in public hospitals is obsolete and constantly out of order.
“For example, radiography equipment at Parirenyatwa Group and Mpilo Central hospitals need constant servicing, which costs around $8 million,” he said.
Speaking on same issue, National Aids Council communications director Madeline Dube said government should consider increasing funding to the Health ministry, specifically for cancer treatment.