The Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) has been implementing programmes meant to prevent cervical cancer amongst them Human Papilloma Vaccination that is conducted annually in May. Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid also known as VIAC and Pap smear are among the list of other prevention strategies that MoHCC has been implementing tirelessly to fight cancers.
VIAC which is a ‘see and treat’ method has been providing Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEP) or Cryotheraphy as a treatment that can be administered during outreaches or at health facilities.
Anna Mary Marowe (39) despite the fact that she has been exposed to cervical cancer messages a countless times, vowed that she would not go through the approximated 15 minute procedure for fear of the unknown. More so, even the aspect of her being a holder of a degree thus possessing basic education to comprehend basic health information, still she has evaded from the procedure fearing to be shuttered and have all hope gone.
“As a 39 year old woman I still consider myself to be young, so I would rather not create stress for my life by searching and seeking for a disease in my body that will not be cured. “If you are not sick and not feeling any pain anywhere, why should you even have the VIAC or Pap Smear.
“You know how it is, somehow these things cross your ear when there are programmes or adverts played on the radio. Honestly I have heard about it but I guess only in a flash. I don’t want to be told of health condition that will crush my faith and hope.”
Other women around her community share the same sentiments sighting the old adage ‘Zvausingazivi hazvikuurayi’. One of the women echoes an old idiom ‘kutsvaga makudo mugomo unosangana nawo’, “why seek for a disease that is untreatable, it’s like a death sentence.” She added.
Cancer remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality with over 5,000 new diagnosis and over 1,500 deaths per year. The incidence of cervical cancer in Zimbabwe is reported to be 35 per 100,000 women compared to the global average of 152 and cervical cancer accounts for 33.4% of all cancers among women
Five common cancers in black Zimbabwean women are: (i) Cervical cancer 33,5 percent; (ii) Breast cancer 11,7 percent; (iii) Kaposi sarcoma 8,9 percent; (iv) Eye cancer 6,5 percent; and (v) Non-Hodgkin lymphoma 4,9 percent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) statistics predicted 13.2 million cancer related deaths worldwide by 2030. To date, Zimbabwe is among the top 10 countries with a huge cancer burden with over 5000 new cancer cases diagnosed in the country annually.
Whilst cervical cancer is the most common cancer among Zimbabwe women, almost half of all cervical cancers globally are said to occur in women who have never been screened. Unknown to many is the fact that cervical cancer can be prevented and treated as long as there has been early detection. It is therefore, important to seek screening services once every year for the HIV positive and once in 3 years for the HIV negative women.
Chipo Sithole (36) of Chibuwe in Chipinge District gave an account of her experience after receiving treatment at one of the recent outreaches.
“I came to attend a women’s conference where our lady pastor encouraged us to take time and get screened. She emphasised that the service was for free and that it was for every woman aged 18 years and above.
“The nurse told us that we had done well in deciding to get screened. She went on to give us health education before we proceeded to go for screening. She showed us images of different cervix and explained that our results would depict these pictures.
“In the years that I have given birth to my five children, it had never occurred to me that I needed to get screened. It is my first time to be screened though I had neither experienced any pain nor seen any anomaly on my reproductive organs.
“The nurse explained to me that my own cervix looked like the 3rd image on the flier we were given hence there was need for me to receive LEEP treatment. They then showed me a picture of my cervix,” She chuffed.
“I did not feel any pain either during the approximately 15 minute procedure or afterwards. I was given antibiotics and told to avoid sexual intercourse for four weeks. The nurse also said I should come back after 6 weeks for check-up or earlier if I have smelly discharge and/or experience pain on my lower abdomen” Chipo narrated.
LEEP is a procedure whereby a small electrical wire loop is used to remove a precancerous spot from the cervix which is sent to the laboratory for evaluation. Cryotherapy on the other hand treats cancer by freezing precancerous cells using ice-cold gas. These are safe and effective ways to remove or destroy abnormal cells in the cervix.
Chipo Sithole is thankful for the service she had got free of charge and encouraged women to get screened saying results differ, and one cannot tell if there is anything developing inside the body unless and until one is screened. Majority of Women (80%) will not have any symptoms as it takes 10-12 years before one develops cancer. However, HIV positive women develop cancer in a less period of time