by Lulu Brenda Harris
There is no reason to shy away from visiting the clinic or seeing your doctor when you spot something amiss in your body, especially in your ‘lady parts.’ But surveys indicate few women go for early screening to guard against diseases such as cervical cancer. It is quite sad that most women still shy away from checking themselves or to go for screening services, only doing so when the cancer is at an advanced stages.
More often, little can be done by medicine or science to stop the spread of cancer and worse, save the woman. In 2014, 2 200 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer alone in Zimbabwe and almost 64 percent died from the disease. The incidence of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe is reported to be 35 per 100 000 women, as compared to the global average of 15.1. Such statistics are shocking and more saddening is that Zimbabwe is among the top 10 countries with a huge cancer burden while funding for the scourge remains limited.
Cancer treatment is quite expensive, which is another factor why women are encouraged to screen early so that the virus can be nipped before it presents a huge risk to the individual’s wellness and financial muscle. Currently, about 100 sites across the country offer Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Camera (VIAC) screening with an option to treat potential cancerous cells if detected.
Although screening in public hospitals is free it is often congested and sometimes the equipment breaks down but it should not deter women to go screen themselves. A well-known gynecologist in Bulawayo, Dr. Solwayo Ngwenya, confirmed to Ayana Magazine that cervical cancer is one of the major killers of women in Zimbabwe, mostly so if they are HIV positive.
“This is why we push women to go for screening. If detected early, we can save them and it has been proven that a substantial number of the cervical cancer cases that come through can be treated successfully,” he said. Dr. Ngwenya explained that because of the link of cervical cancer and HIV, there was an emphasis on taking the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine.
“The HPV and HIV viruses combine to cause aggressive development of cancer. Such women must undergo regular screening for cancer of the cervix. If there are any abnormalities, they should undergo a hysterectomy, wipe it out totally, as the disease can progress very rapidly,” he emphasised.
According to the Ministry of Health and Child Care, annually there are 2 270 new cervical cancer cases reported with 1 451 associated deaths. 99 percent of these cervical cancers are associated with HPV and about seven in every 10 women will have HPV.
To curb the growth of cervical cancer, Zimbabwean authorities undertook a nationwide programme to roll out the HPV vaccination in April last year to 800 000 schoolgirls aged between nine and 14 years. Now, Zimbabwe is targeting to screen three million women by 2020 and to date over 300 000 women have been screened – a mere 10 percent, which calls for more campaigns and advocacy.
To push these figures up, the country’s First Lady, Auxilia Mnangagwa has since February 2019 undertaken a program to encourage women to be screened. Having been screened in public herself, the First Lady said there was nothing to be ashamed if women suspected there was something unusual happening to their bodies. She has also taken the call to the often hard to reach areas in the country’s rural areas, going a step further – urging authorities to provide more screening services.
The first lady has not been alone in this call as developmental partners and citizens have also called on the government to subsidise cancer treatment and purchase radiography equipment for public hospitals.