By Ben Kangwa
Cervical cancer, although largely preventable through early detection, is the leading cause of cancer death among women globally, especially in developing countries where more than 85 percent of the estimated 529,800 cervical cancer cases in 2008 occurred according to a report by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer based in Lyon, France
The report states that while cervical cancer screening rates have decreased by as much as 65 percent over the past four decades due to inadequate screening facilities, incidence rates remain high in developing countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Southern Asia and Sub Saharan Africa where girls and women do not have access to prevention services such as education, life-saving pre-cancer screening and early treatment and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is spread through sexual contact. Most of the time HPV has no symptoms so people do not know they have it. The HPV vaccine works by preventing most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer and genital warts.
Coming back close at home in Zambia, First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata has observed that cancer of the cervix was responsible for about 1,300 women who die from the disease every year accounting for 38 percent of all cancers, while breast cancer was around 11 per cent.
Speaking in Kitwe at the Cancer Awareness launch organized by the Cancer Support Network of Zambia in October, 2011, Dr. Kaseba noted the need to make more affordable and easily accessible cancer care services in order to save the lives that are lost at a high rate.
She told her audience that screening of cervical cancer should be incorporated in screening exercises of frequently screened diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes and hypertension so that most cancer cases are detected in the early stage and treatment sought unlike the current trend where women were shunning screening of cervical cancer.
The Zambia News and Information Services (ZANIS) recently quoted the First Lady stating that the rapid increase in cancer cases in Zambia needed concerted efforts on prevention from all stake holders through creation of public private partnerships to supplement the Ministry of Health in the fight against the disease.
It is against this background that on 2nd December, 2011, during a visit to Zambia, former US President George W Bush, Mrs Laura Bush, Zambia’s First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba were joined by United States Ambassador Mark Storella at the George Urban Health Center in Lusaka to announce that Zambia would be the first Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon partner country, expanding the availability of vital cervical cancer screening and treatment and breast care education to those in need.
The Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is an innovative partnership between the George W Bush Institute, the US Department of State President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that leverages public and private investments and existing health infrastructures to combat cervical and breast cancer, the two leading causes of cancer deaths among women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The cervical cancer partnership would utilize the platform and resources at PEPFAR and would draw from lessons learned in the significant scaling-up of access to HIV interventions in recent years.
Making the announcement at the occasion, President Bush said, “Today I am proud to announce that Zambia is the first country to implement a new effort to combat cervical and breast cancer in the developing world. It is not acceptable to save a woman’s life from HIV/AIDS and watch her die from cervical cancer.”
Joining former President and Mrs Bush, Dr Kaseba and US Ambassador Mark Storella were Dr. Joseph Kasonde, Minister of Health, Mrs. Sheila Siwela, Zambia’s Ambassador to the US, Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President of Becton Dickinson (BD)Katrina McGhee, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer from Susan G Komen for Cure, Dr. Sheila Tlou, Regional Director, UNAIDS and Dr. Julie Gerberding the President of Merck Vaccines
Ambassador Storella stated that the US had chosen to work with Zambia because of the its increased budget in the health sector and because of the commitment the Government and the country had shown in combating breast and cervical cancers.
“Zambia has the flagship program for screening and early treatment of cervical cancer in Africa. Additional funding and support of the Government of Zambia will help prevent the terrible suffering due to cervical cancers across the country through prevention, early detection and treatment,” he said.
First Lady Dr. Christine Kaseba Sata underscored the need for women to be more aware of the disease and the need for them to get tested in order to save lives of those at risk.
She called on all Zambians to take advantage of the private-public health partnership in order to benefit from it.
According to the PRNewswire, PEPFAR will contribute an additional US $3 million and the Zambian Ministry of Health will dedicate nurses and clinic space to perform simple screening to highlight potential cancers at an early stage, when they can be treated on the spot before they progress.
The University Teaching Hospital Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, supported by the Center of Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed a program in 2005 to train nurses to perform a Visual inspection using Acetic acid (VIA) technique and to take a picture of the cervix using a simple digital camera. This way, it is possible to see even small lesions and the findings can be confirmed by an expert panel.
The PRNewswire further states that Susan G Komen for the Cure in partnership with Merck will invest approximately US $1.5 million over three years for cervical and breast cancer community sensitization and mobilization activities in Zambia. All activities will be integrated as part of their efforts at a comprehensive cancer control plan.
BD (Becton, Dickson and Company) another Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Corporate partner will assist in supporting the School of Medicine in training pathology and cytology.
And the US Department of State – Diplomacy in Action Website, under the title “Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Overview” fact-sheet from the Office of the Spokesperson dated 13th September, 2011, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has commitments of US $75 million over the next five years and is expected to grow to include additional participants and services.
The Goals are to reduce deaths from cervical cancer by an estimated 25 percent among women screened and treated through the initiative, significantly increase access to breast and cervical cancer prevention, screening and treatment programs and create innovative models that can be scaled up and used globally.
Chairperson of the Cancer Support Network of Zambia Doreen Mwenya Grant, a breast cancer survivor, is pleased with the Zambian government’s effort in trying to make people aware of the disease and the effort in trying to encourage a public private partnership to fight breast and cervical cancers.
Doreen Mwenya Grant who is based in Florida, Miami says the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative that was officially unveiled by former President and Mrs Bush in Zambia will make a huge impact on the capacity building support services and awareness programs.
She added,” This program will provide the expansion that is needed to deliver services in parts of Zambia where cancer is still not known as a deadly disease.”
The author is Press Secretary at the Embassy of the Republic of Zambia in Washington DC