The Sunday Mail
IN an effort to close gaps and disparities faced by the public in accessing cancer screening services, First Lady Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa is continuing with the cancer screening programme for both men and women.
The programme being spearheaded by her philanthropic arm, Angel of Hope Foundation, is covering all the country’s 10 provinces.
Yesterday, spouses of members of the Zimbabwe Republic Police become the latest to benefit from the initiative.
In addition to screening for cervical cancer, the First Lady’s programme will also encourage men to get screened for prostate cancer. Addressing a gathering at ZRP Tomlinson Depot in Harare yesterday, Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa, who is also the country’s health ambassador, said her passion was to ensure that no one is left behind in the latest cancer screening initiative.
“In addition to HIV testing and care for women, my passion is to see increased coverage and utilisation of screening and treating of various women, total eradication of all forms of gender-based violence, including child marriages, rape and denying of opportunities,” she said.
Midway into her speech, the First Lady urged women to get early cancer screening and treatment to deal with the condition, which has affected thousands of people.
She said non-communicable diseases were becoming more prevalent and exerting a burden on people already infected and affected by HIV and Aids. Women in particular, she added, were more affected by cancer, with 60 percent of all the new 7000 cases recorded per year in Harare only affecting women.
Of these cases, 35 percent are cervical, 11,7 percent account for breast cancer, followed by Kaposi sarcoma, eye cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. “It is very disturbing to see women dying from cervical cancer as a result of ignorance and lack of access to diagnostic services,” she said.
Women who benefited from the initiative yesterday were elated and commended the First Lady’s support.
Mrs Melody Nyoni, one of the many women who was screened for cancer, said she only used to see the programme on television and wished to be part of it. “I have come here after hearing there is a screening session for cancer brought by the First Lady. I have come to be screened because this disease knows no age. I am so happy because this is being done for free.”
Mrs Pretty Kurekwechuma said it was her second time to be screened for cervical cancer.
“This disease is dangerous because late diagnosis leads to complications. The First Lady has shown love and her desire for us to live,” she said.
“When I heard about this last night, I couldn’t sleep as I was overjoyed that our mother has remembered us. This is because with cancers, when at home you feel no pain, but when it is advanced you fall sick. I thank God and pray that he gives the First Lady more years because of what she has done for us and what she is doing for the whole country.”
The mother of the nation said the cancer burden is worsened by its association with HIV, which also disproportionately affects women.
And this has become a double tragedy with deep societal challenges.
“While Zimbabwe has identified cervical cancer as a growing challenge, limited service coverage, particularly in rural areas, leaves more women with limited or without services at all, with the only option being referrals to central hospitals. Without money for transport, many women die in silence, which is made worse by limited awareness and social stigma associated with cervical cancer,” she said, adding that it was not comfortable for most women to disclose their challenges, especially when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health.
Health experts say 80 percent of cancer patients seek treatment late, resulting in increased premature deaths.
The First lady has decided to double down on cervical cancer screening services for women in order to address the challenge.
National Aids Council (NAC) Harare provincial Aids coordinator Mr Adonija Muzondiona said there were over 200 000 people living with HIV and Aids in Harare alone, with a large percentage being women.
“Harare has a prevalence rate of 11,5 percent and from last year it has recorded 4 230 new HIV infections, an indication that it is still spreading, hence early detection or screening of cancer becomes vital to avoid a double blow to women,” he said.
Cervical and breast cancer, he said, are closely related to HIV and Aids.
Dr Collen Madembo from the Harare City Health Department, who was representing City Health director Dr Prosper Chonzi, said it was important for women to be tested for cancer early like what the First Lady is advocating.
“As City of Harare, we now have 17 VIAC clinics where we train doctors and nurses and also offer treatment for pre-cancer conditions,” he said. The First Lady implored men to assist their spouses to access healthcare services and be responsible to guard against all forms of gender-based violence.
“Although I am focusing more on women today, it does not mean I am disregarding men. In addition to cervical cancer screening, I have also brought screening for blood pressure and diabetes for everyone. I am happy to inform you that I have a programme that promotes male utilisation of health services after realising that men are a left-out population due to low health-seeking behaviour.”
Statistics indicate that fewer men than women make use of available HIV prevention and health services in general.
“I want to encourage you to play an important role in the health of your families and not leave everything to the women. Help them, work with them, and accompany them to clinics and hospitals.” Cervical cancer is the second most frequent cancer among women aged 15 to 49 years in Zimbabwe. According to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Related Cancers in Zimbabwe report (ICO/WHO 2013), all women 15 years and older (accounting for approximately 4,4 million women) are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
Current estimates indicate that every year 2 270 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer and 1 451 die from the disease.
The First Lady has made a commitment to ensure that everyone is screened and gets early treatment against cervical and breast cancer.
With such passion through her Angel of Hope Foundation, she introduced a mobile cancer clinic in 2018 to ensure women have better healthcare and are treated early against killer diseases.