More than 4,000 cancer deaths are being recorded annually in Zimbabwe, with the government moving to establish a prevention and treatment strategy for the deadly cervical cancer which is responsible for most of the fatalities.
Family Health Director in the Ministry of Health and Childcare, Dr Bernard Madzima, said until recently, the country had no prevention and treatment strategy for cancer, adding that 2,000 or more of those dying are cervical cancer patients.
He was speaking in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com on the sidelines of Zimbabwe National Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (ZNNNP+) dialogue on Sexual Health Rights (SRHR) this Monday.
"The prevalence rate of cervical cancer is 2,000 deaths per year, which is the highest in the region, and this is not acceptable, but the numbers for all cancers put together is over 4,000 deaths per year but most deaths are not recorded," said Dr Madzima.
"The government had not put in place a prevention programme until recently. Our screening has not been properly put in place and that is why we are recording high deaths as compared to other countries in the region."
Dr Madzima said of the women who have lost their lives, most of them were HIV positive. He said 60 percent of cancer cases in Zimbabwe are HIV-related.
"It has been scientifically proven that women who are HIV positive have more incidents of cervical cancer infection. Most deaths are not recorded though, especially those that occur in rural areas."
He added; "We now have a cervical cancer control and prevention strategy for the country where we are looking at four areas.
"We want to make sure that young girls between the ages of nine and 13 get the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine on time and this project has been piloted in Beitbridge and Marondera and it will be rolled out throughout all districts soon."
HPV screening for girls is offered for free in public health institutions.
Dr Madzima said government has also put in place visual inspection with Acetic Acid (VIAC) which targets women of child bearing age between 15 and 49 years to find pre-cancerous lesions and ensure that they get treatment.
Lovemore Makurira of the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe, said most of cancers are treatable if access to screening services is made available.
"Of concern is that deaths can be prevented if people get screened early before the cancer spreads.
"But, it is sad to note that 81 percent of the cases are diagnosed at an advanced stage," lamented Makurira.