via Lifeline for Cancer-prone women – The Zimbabwean 14 July 2015
In the past two decades, three women in Loveletter Sibanda’s family died of cervical cancer. However, in all three cases, the rest of the family only found out that these women had battled cervical cancer after they had passed away.
According to Sibanda, a middle-aged woman from Sesombi’s village 7, ward 26, Silobela, this is due to a general lack of knowledge about cancer in the community and the lack of availability of specialist treatment at local health centres.
Today, Sibanda knows a great deal about cervical cancer and she has inspired many other women to undergo early screening and treatment. This development has saved many lives in her village, thanks to a local NGO – Women International Coalition Organisation.
Cervical cancer occurs at the mouth of the womb and is caused by a virus that is usually sexually transmitted. It accounts for a third of all cancers among women in Zimbabwe. Global estimates show that 500 000 new cases occur every year with about 86% being recorded in developing countries. Centres for screening in rural areas are few and far between and private surgeries in urban areas charge unaffordable fees.
In response to this situation, the Gweru-based NGO, together with its partner Southern African AIDS Trust (SAT), has set up a progressive, free cervical cancer screening centre at Nyoni shopping centre. This life-saving project has been going since the beginning of the year in partnership with the Health Ministry.
The NGOs have provided the equipment necessary for cervical cancer screening, using the new Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Cervicography (VIAC) method. The organisation has also facilitated the training of health workers from Nyoni clinic and Silobela District Hospital on how to conduct cancer screening using this method.
Since the beginning of the year, WICO has also been providing specialist personnel from its organisation to do weekly outreach programmes in the district. They assist health ministry officials to roll out the programme to as many women as possible.
When this reporter visited the free cancer screening site at Nyoni shopping centre in Silobela recently, it was evident that the programme had transformed the lives of women in the district. Scores of women were gathered at the site and were receiving information on the prevention of cervical cancer from WICO officials before they went for a screening. Those who were found to have cervical cancer automatically receive free treatment.
In separate interviews, women said that the programme was like a lifeline because it had saved many in the surrounding communities from death caused by cervical cancer.
Sibanda, one of the women screened at the centre, told the story of her three family members and expressed the hope she would not succumb to the disease herself. “I was screened today and found to be negative. I have been advised to have regular screening. Women also receive adequate information on preventative measures. Among these measures is the need to convince today’s youth to delay the age of their first sexual encounter and to desist from smoking. I am now hopeful that when I die, it will not be due to cervical cancer as was the case with my late relatives,” she said.
Deadly for women
Grace Dera, 27, a mother of two, said that she had never had the opportunity to access cancer screening services due to financial constraints although she was aware that it could be deadly for women.
“I am delighted and have grabbed this opportunity to be screened. We thank WICO and all behind this programme. It is very useful. The programme has been an eye opener and I urge all women to embrace cervical cancer screening,” she said.
Another woman who accessed the services, Esnath Chiundura, 33, echoed these sentiments. “The fact that we live in rural areas makes us underprivileged and so when we get these critical services on our doorstep, we should be grateful and make use of them. It gives us a chance to live longer and fend for our families,” said this mother of three.
Polisile Mpofu, 44, the ward 26 health worker, pointed out that since the establishment of the cancer screening centre, there had already been positive results in the lives of women.
“The women who were found to be positive since the programme started have been given treatment and medication. This means a lifeline for them. Those who were found negative, are now our ambassadors and they are spreading the good prevention news in their communities. This is a success story,” she said.
Mpofu also revealed that in one month an average of 500 women from all over Silobela go for screening at the centre.
In an interview, Rebecca Chiringa, the WICO’s director, pointed out that her organisation was motivated to start the programme in Silobela because the ministry of health had revealed it as a cancer hot-spot when compared to other districts in the Midlands. She expressed joy at the successes so far and said there was still need to do even more.
“We would really like to expand our services in Silobela because the district is very big. Our challenge is that we do not have an all-terrain vehicle. We also need camping equipment like a caravan, tents, gas cylinders and sterilising equipment among other items. With these items we would be able to cover longer distances and ultimately reach more women,” she said.