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Cervical cancer a major threat to HIV-positive women
February 08, 2013
women are living longer, but are now dying of cervical cancer. In
Zimbabwe, cervical cancer is now the most common cancer among women,
particularly those living with HIV. Activists are urging the government
to step up efforts to prevent deaths related to the disease, accusing
it of paying lip service to the problem.
the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, cervical cancer affects about
30 percent of women in the country. Cervical cancer is caused by
the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV). Although condoms
are said to lower the risk of getting HPV, they do not prevent the
risk of acquiring this virus completely. About 1,900 women are diagnosed
with the disease every year in Zimbabwe and 1,300 die, according
to the UN World Health Organization.
In October last
year, the government registered a cervical cancer vaccine for the
prevention of HPV and reported that by early this year the new vaccine
would be available for women in the country. However, those plans
have been scuppered by financial constraints.
A number of
public health institutions in Zimbabwe, including Parirenyatwa Hospital,
the country's largest referral hospital, were supported by the UN
Population Fund (UNFPA) to run free cervical cancer tests known
as visual inspection with ascetic acid and cervicography. While
this method is faster and cheaper than the traditional pap smears,
the machines at Parirenyatwa Hospital are not enough to service
the large number of women coming from around the country for the
service. Women have been forced to wait for up to a month to get
some women who had been screened and found to have cervical cancer
have been waiting for up to three months for treatment. One woman
at the hospital, who asked not to be identified, told IRIN/PlusNews
that after waiting for three months to begin her treatment, she
was told the radio therapy machines had broken down and had to wait
again until the machines were repaired.
Promise Mthembu noted that research indicated that more women in
sub-Saharan Africa are dying of cervical cancer than of maternal
mortality-related deaths. She urged the Zimbabwean government to
do more to address this growing crisis.
HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer was a disease of older women, affecting
women beyond reproductive age, and it was marginalized because of
this. But now it is affecting younger women," said Mthembu.
important that we have a comprehensive package for women that addresses
cervical cancer. What we have seen in HIV/AIDS policy is that policy
has been promoting pap smears or screening for cervical cancer.
While a pap smear is a means to an end, why should the government
screen cervical cancer if it doesn't have means to treat cervical
cancer-prevention activist Anna Nyakabau says it is unacceptable
that a large number of women continue to die as a result of cervical
cancer given the slow progression of cervical cancer in a person's
Nyakabau, many women are dying in Zimbabwe because they present
themselves to health facilities when it is too late to save their
lives. She says the disease is evasive because symptoms only show
when the disease is already at an advanced stage. She says it is
important for the government and its partners to increase knowledge
among the population about the dangers of cervical cancer and the
importance of regular screening for the disease.
Health and Child Welfare Henry Madzorera admitted that lack of funds
had stymied the roll-out a cervical cancer vaccine early this year,
but said the government would be mobilizing funds from donors to
launch the vaccine in 2014. Meanwhile, he said, the government would
focus on other strategies to reduce cervical cancer deaths in the
country, such as screening and testing and treatment for those infected.
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