Zambia has a population of 3.21 million women aged 15 years and older, who are at risk of developing cervical cancer.
This is according to First Lady Christine Kaseba who made the statistics known recently through a speech read on her behalf by Health Minister Joseph Kasonde during the launch of the Stop Cervical Cancer Conference in Africa (SCCA) at Matero Referral Health Centre in Lusaka last week.
Owing to the above statistics, the First Lady has advised women to go for cervical and breast cancer screening early so that if detected, the cancer could be prevented from spreading.
Dr Kaseba said that although many women were aware of the immense value of prevention, treatment services should continue to be provided to ensure that all people that needed it got it.
The First Lady acknowledged some achievements scored by Government in the fight against cancer, such as the setting up of a radiotherapy centre at the Cancer Diseases Hospital, together with cooperating partners like the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIRDZ) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in cervical cancer screening and treatment of precancerous lesions.
Other efforts include the training of nurses in visual inspection with acetic and crytherapy treatment and the training of doctors in Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure (LEEEP).
Despite the above achievements, the First Lady was quick to mention that in order to successfully win the fight, challenges such as lack of intensive public awareness on primary and secondary preventive methods of cancers, the traditional practices that purport to treat symptomatic women leading to delay in seeking medically proven
remedies and services available in the country, low levels of early detection rates of cancers by health practitioners and the increasing burden of cancer that is attributed to diseases such as HIV/AIDS needed to be overcome.
Zambia would host the conference from July 22 to July 24, this year in Lusaka which would attract the first ladies from Zambia, Swaziland, South Africa, Nigeria and Uganda. Zambia is on the right path to hold this conference under the theme 'A new era in cervical cancer prevention' because of its cervical cancer statistics which ranked Zambia as the second highest nation with cervical cancer cases.
Dr Kaseba urged women to go for cervical and breast cancer screening early in order to avoid the deadly stages of the cancer.
The First Lady also revealed that Government was in the process of adopting a programme for preventing cancer infections with human papilloma virus (HPV) which is a known agent for causing cervical cancer.
The programme would involve vaccination of young women who are not yet sexually active so that the chances of them getting infected with the virus are reduced, thereby lowering the chances of acquiring cervical cancer.
"Let us make great use of this opportunity of hosting the conference by raising the awareness levels on cancer and also advocate for more support in the fight against cancer during the conference.
"Matero is privileged because this launch is taking place here. We have a cervical cancer screening team at this centre.
"Let me encourage women coming for this service have their breasts examined too. If there are women here who have not yet been screened, I would urge you to go and get screened," Dr Kaseba added.
She also appealed to men to support the women in their homes and communities by encouraging them to go for screening as the procedure could prevent women from developing advanced cancer.
Zambia is hosting the Sixth Stop Cervical Cancer in Africa Conference for the first ladies and various stakeholders involved in the fight against 'women cancers' for the first time.
The objectives for hosting the conference are in line with commitments made at last year's conference.
In a statement at the first global summit on women's cancers in Africa on September 2, this year in Addis Ababa, the first ladies from Zambia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda and Swaziland committed themselves to championing support for education, awareness, prevention, screening and early detection, treatment and palliative care of women cancers, especially cervical and breast cancer in the world's poorest countries.
Following that meeting, Dr Kaseba was installed as vice-chairperson in January 2012 at State House in Lusaka where she was also given the rare honour to host the sixth SCCA conference in July this year.