By Joyce Mukucha
In the pursuit to significantly reduce illness and death caused by cancer, encouraging its prevention, detection, and treatment, Zimbabwe yesterday joined the rest of the international world in commemorating World Cancer Day (WCD).
Through an online meeting hosted by the Zimpapers Television Network, the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe(CAZ) in partnership with the Organization for Public Health Interventions and Development (OPHID) with support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief urged everyone to play a crucial role concerning the fight against cancer.
As a day observed by the United Nations, WCD seeks to unite the international community in support of those affected by cancer and also calls to all global citizens to take action against this disease.
It is a global uniting initiative led by the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) to support the goals of the World Cancer Declaration, written in 2008 and it was originated in 2000 at the first World Summit Against Cancer, which was held in Paris.
World Cancer Day is observed annually on February 4 as an international event. The 2021 theme is “I am and I will,” a theme which was introduced in 2019 to be carried on till this year.
Speaking during the online meeting, OPHID Policy Advocacy and Communication Manager, Tavonga Chikwaya said studies estimate that about one out of six people worldwide died from cancer, that is more than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined.
He added that more than half of 65 percent of cancer deaths were happening in the least developed countries.
“More than half of cancer deaths are occurring in the least developed nations in the world – which is worrisome. However, in the high-income countries, inequalities still exist amongst the immigrants and rural communities as they fail to get cancer screening and treatment services. The cancer burden is experienced globally so this day is a call for action to governments and every one to ensure that this can be eradicated and ensure that priority is given to cancer patients,” said Chikwaya.
Speaking in the same discussion, OPHID Cervical Cancer and HIV Integration Manager, Muchaneta Mandara emphasised that WCD is an important day that is dedicated to ensuring that issues agreed on the cancer summit are remembered through putting cancer patients at the centre as well as identifying gaps that need to be closed pertaining cancer prevention, awareness and treatment.
“It is the day that we need to put in our mind, meditating how cancer is literally affecting everyone globally, not only talking about the deaths but the burden it is putting on countries.”
Under the ‘I’m and I will’ banner which is running for 3 years, Mandara said an increase has been witnessed in terms of cancer awareness in different communities though there is still a need to scale up efforts.
She indicated that the Ministry of Health and Child Care was in the process of reviewing cancer screening and prevention methods and more partners were coming on board to work collectively with the ministry.
“Zimbabwe has become more aware when it comes to any form of cancer. We have been working tirelessly on every opportunity in partnership with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and other partners to increase awareness campaigns as well as providing screening services for the nation so that everybody would be wanting to be screened.
“Pertaining cervical cancer, information is being disseminated and women who are living with HIV are now aware that they are at high risk of getting contracting it. So when they come for their medication and viral loads testing, we are advocating for them to get screened and we are seeing that it is yielding results as they are positively responding. Therefore, I can say that cervical cancer knowledge is being increased amongst women.”
Mandara said they are three types of cervical cancer screening which are; Visual inspection with acetic acid and cervicography, Pap Smear, and HPV test.
The Cancer Association of Zimbabwe(CAZ) Information Research and Evaluation Officer, Lovemore Makurirofa stressed that WCD was a significant campaign to the world and Zimbabwe as he explained that it encourages each and every individual to identify their position in the fight against cancer.
“Everyone is responsible to join the world in the fight against this disease. “I’m and I Will” is a very significant theme which helps us to identify our roles and achieve goals in the fight against cancer,” Makurirofa said.
He added that in Zimbabwe there was still more which needs to be done as cancer cases were rapidly increasing annually.
“From 2005 to date, cancer cases have been collected, and they’re an indication that they are increasing every year. The only decrease was seen in 2008 because the health sector was deteriorating and many people were not able to access it. From 2010 going forward, the cases started to rise again.”
This year, World Cancer Day comes at a time when the world is grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The UICC, World Health Organisation, Convening Advocacy Members Partners, and Cancer Associations, emphasised that as Covid-19 pandemic rages, 2021 is the year of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action.
Makurirofa highlighted some challenges that are being encountered in the fight against cancer and he stressed that in the wake of Covid-19, a plethora of challenges were disrupting cancer programming.
“A lot of community intervention programmes are suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic meaning there is a gap in terms of offering screening, prevention, and awareness events and programmes that we have planned.
“Also, under the current situation of Covid-19, cancer patients are going through difficult times and we should not forget them. Some can not manage to travel to hospitals and others their treatment is being suspended or postponed which is a serious challenge that hinders the efforts to fight cancer.”
He also mentioned that some of the challenges were linked to a lack of cancer screening resources.
“When it comes to cervical cancer, I’m happy that partners such as the ministry of health have managed to provide resources for screening and the services are free but when it comes other types of cancer such as breast, colon, and prostate cancer among others, the resources are limited and the services require payment so others cannot afford for instance they fail to pay for cancer diagnosis laboratories services.
“Government and partners have been making huge strides since 2007 but I think improvements are still needed to ensure that gaps such as these are closed and ensure that drugs are readily available in clinics and hospitals.”
When it comes to the role of men in the fight against cancer in Zimbabwe, Makurirofa said men play a critical role and should continue when it comes to fighting cervical cancer.
He said they should assist in disseminating information related to cervical cancer so that more women become aware and get screened.
Cementing the discussion, the District Practice Mentor, Nyaradzo Mushonga pointed out that WCD should be a day to save people especially women through ensuring that they get awareness and early treatment to any form of cancer.
“This day is so important to me because I lost my aunt due to cervical cancer and I lost my sister due to breast cancer. Looking at the statistics, it shows that their lives could have been saved but because they lacked information and awareness on how to get services we ended up losing them,” Mushonga said.
In an interview with Charmaine Mandi(not real name), a 34 year old Harare woman who is a breast cancer survivor said there was need for cancer associations to continue extending unwavering emotional, spiritual, moral and physical support to cancer sufferers and survivors.
She said it was important to develop a positive attitude to the disease during diagnosis and treatment.
“When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was scared, I thought that was the end of the world. Also, I was in denial until I received counseling from the doctor and he assured me that it can be treated. That is when I developed a positive attitude, I told myself that I’m going to be well and take care of my family. Look where I’m today, I’m here cured and healed and I’m happy. As the world celebrates this special day, I say to all the women with breast cancer and all those suffering from any form of cancer, positivity is the way to go. You will make it,” said Mandi.
Cancer associations around the globe, she said, should be dedicated to providing the community with information to promote a healthy lifestyle and to increase public awareness in the prevention and early detection of cancer.
Raising awareness and education about cancer, on their website, UICC pressed governments and individuals across the world to take action against the disease.
“This World Cancer Day, we recognise that our commitment to act will lead to powerful progress in reducing the global impact of cancer. It is important to remember that the fight against cancer is still alive and continues every day.
“So, this 4 February whoever you are, your actions, big and small will make lasting, positive change. Because progress is possible. We need your commitment to creating a cancer-free world. Together, all our actions matter. When we choose to come together, we can achieve what we all wish for a healthier, brighter world without cancer,” said UICC.
The organisation highlighted that cancer can occur at any age and if not detected at the right time and is not treated, it can increase the risk of death.
UICC added that 2021, the ultimate year of the ‘I Am and I Will’ campaign shows that collective actions have an impact on everyone around the world, within neighbourhoods, communities, and cities.
“And that more than ever, our actions are also being felt across borders and oceans. This year is a reminder of the enduring power of cooperation and collective action.
“Never underestimate the power of cooperation and collective action to save lives. Who are you and what will you do on 4 Feb? Speak up, stand up and take action together.”
World Cancer Day, said UICC, is an excellent platform that has given people the opportunity to raise greater awareness about the cause and further galvanise the community to come together in the collective fight against the disease.
Yesterday, the Singapore Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer, Albert Ching indicated that in Australia, around 130 people from the Southern Grampians Shire are diagnosed with cancer each year, with 52 locals losing their lives to the disease.
According to CAZ’s previous studies, about 50% of the most common cancers can be prevented through reducing alcohol consumption, healthier diets, and improved physical activity, and avoiding smoking.
“Tobacco use accounts for five million deaths every year, (22% of all cancer deaths). Reducing the rates of tobacco use will significantly decrease the global cancer burden.
“Alcohol use has been linked to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, bowel, liver, and breast,” said CAZ.
Overweight and obesity, added CAZ, are strongly linked with an increased risk of bowel, breast, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic.
CAZ is a charitable organization that was started in 1961 has over the past 50 years strived to raise awareness on cancer prevention, early detection, and management in Zimbabwe.
Since the beginning of this noble service, the Cancer Association has continued to grow in providing cancer support services and cancer awareness programmes.
According to the World Cancer Day website, the primary goal is to focus on positive actions in order to reach the ‘target of reducing the number of premature deaths from cancer and non-communicable diseases by 1/3 by 2030’.
This multi-year campaign has been focused on the community as a whole and the actions that each individual can take towards reducing the global impact of cancer.
Since its inception, World Cancer Day has been observed keeping in mind certain themes that would guide the agenda of the celebrations and campaigns