BY GIBSON NYIKADZINO
ALBERT Chabvuta-Kasimbe, a local pastor, flipped through this Bible, ready to utter words of hope during the burial of a member of his church.
His words, however, did not register on a young man in his early 30s, who was engrossed watching undertakers from a local funeral parlour releasing his wife’s coffin into the ground.
The grieving young man’s wife had succumbed to cervical cancer.
This year alone, Chabvuta-Kasimbe lost three congregants from his assembly in Harare’s Tynwald South to the disease.
“Things are not what they seem. When you see people driving expensive cars and running successful businesses you would think all is well. But people are perishing because of lack of knowledge on cervical cancer,” Chabvuta-Kasimbe said. “More needs to be done because as it stands, the numbers are scary.”
Global statistics for 2018 by the World Health Organisation showed that cervical cancer was slowly taking a grip on the developing world.
Last year, an estimated 270 000 people died of cancer while of the 570 000 new cases that were recorded, cervical cancer accounted for 6,6%.
Of the 270 000 deaths recorded, 85% were from the developing world. In Africa, Zimbabwe is ranked fifth among countries with a 65% cervical cancer mortality rate after Malawi, Mozambique, Comoros Islands and Zambia.
“Our people are dying in numbers and now is the time some of us as theologians should stop insinuating that every sickness is a manifestation of a demon. There are men who come to us as pastors for counseling claiming their wives deny them intimacy, we should not claim demons all the time,” Chabvuta-Kasimbe stated, adding: “We need more knowledge and raise awareness to protect our loved ones.”
Cervical cancer, now the most prevalent after breast cancer, is mainly caused by exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) that is largely contracted through having multiple sex partners. Annually it kills at most 3 000 women in Zimbabwe.
Other established co-factors that can trigger progression from cervical HPV infection to cancer include long-term hormonal contraceptive use, tobacco smoking, high parity and co-infection with an HIV patient.
Some symptoms, which confuse with those of people with sexually transmitted infections, include having pain during sex, persistent vaginal discharge and contact bleeding, among others.
According to public health specialist, Johannes Marisa, there were over 150 types of the HPV virus, with HPV 1618 and HPV 3132 reputed to be the most dangerous.
“Women and everyone should not joke about this, we should be very careful and more awareness has to be carried out collectively,” Marisa said.
“There are some women in remote areas, in the periphery, who have not heard about cervical cancer and they are among people who do not get screened, and if infected they are not treated early.”
Once the HPV virus enters a person’s system, it remains there for life.
“There are some societal dangers that we are also seeing. Some young girls are becoming sexually active at 13, posing a risk unto themselves,” he said.
“Parents should be very open to their children. Someone who starts being sexually active at 13 is at a higher risk of contracting the HPV virus than someone who starts being sexually active at 25. Society should be talking about this issue. If we remain silent we might act as accomplices.”
Last year, in collaboration with Unicef, government rolled out a vaccination campaign targeting more than 800 000 women and young girls aged between nine and 14 against the HPV virus, with the ultimate goal of reaching 95% of the women.
Women Health founder and specialist obstetrician and gynecologist Gift Chambati, whose organisation offers free cervical cancer screening in and outside Harare, advocates for more awareness on the scourge.
“When I meet women to talk about cervical cancer, some say they use traditional medicines and herbal powders to contract their genitals.
“They claim they do this to keep their husbands satisfied during sex, but that is a dangerous start and as a medical practitioner, I realised that there is a gap that has to be filled. In my experience, I have realised that in Harare, we have a lot of women who are ignorant to cervical cancer,” he said.
“Most think that cervical cancer is someone’s problem, but each one of us should play a role and change the perceptions of people out there.”
Marisa also intimated on the need for more dependence on scientifically proven medicinal outcomes instead of spiritualism and visiting prophets when dealing with cervical cancer.
“To win this battle, people should practice safe sex, women should go for regular cervical cancer screening and get treatment earlier once diagnosed. Government should have cervical cancer screening stations at all clinics,” he
Besides raising awareness, government has pledged to reverse the 65% mortality rate by closely working with stakeholders in the health sector on improving women’s health.
Developments in the health sector have also prompted government to invest in more effective mechanisms of cervical cancer screening like the visual inspection with acetic acid and cervicography, which entails photographing the cervix as part of detecting for the disease.