WOMEN are calling for the expansion of the Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Cerviography (Viac) method of testing cervical cancer to cover the whole country after an overwhelming response in the few areas it was introduced.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE
There are only nine health centres offering the service countrywide.
These are United Bulawayo Hospitals, Newlands Clinic, Edith Opperman Clinic in Mbare, Warren Park Polyclinic, Highfield Polyclinic, Masvingo Provincial Hospital and Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ).
Viac, which was discovered by a Zimbabwean professor, Mike Chirenje, is a free service that is set to benefit thousands of women countrywide.
The “see and treat” method, as it is commonly termed, uses a digital camera to take pictures of the cervix, and the results are given as early as possible.
Unlike its predecessor, Papanicolaou (PAP) smear, which took a couple of weeks to get results, Viac is instant and it offers treatment immediately.
The PAP test is a screening test used to detect potentially pre-cancerous and cancerous processes in the endocervical canal of the female reproductive system.
Besides producing results late, PAP tests cost between US$20 and US$30, an amount most people could not afford.
Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator of CAZ, Lovemore Makurirofa said Viac was most ideal considering that results came out early.
“Cervical cancer can be prevented. It can also be cured if diagnosed and treated early,” said Makurirofa. “CAZ has been offering that service for a while now and the response has been good.”
Cervical cancer, which accounts for a third of cancers affecting women in the country, starts in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus that opens at the top of the vagina.
It is caused by a sexually transmitted virus called Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
Health experts say HPV was responsible for 98% of all cervical cancers in Zimbabwe but carriers rarely presented any symptoms of illness and could go for many years without knowing that they carry the disease.
Makurirofa said the sudden increase in cases of that particular disease could be linked HIV and Aids.
“The current high incidences of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are an indication that people are having unprotected sex,” he said.
At the Edith Opperman Clinic in Mbare, women said they were facing a number of challenges. The nurses at the health centre said one had to book two to three months in advance at most.
Clinic matron, Phillomina Chitando was not available to comment on the waiting period.
However, a nurse at the clinic said as a prerequisite, they asked the patients to bring their HIV results.
“We do not screen you until you bring the HIV results,” said the nurse.
Most public health facilities have taken an aggressive stance to encourage people to be tested for HIV which however is still happening on a voluntary basis.
In May this year, CAZ commemorated cervical cancer with the launch of Viac screening. According to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, black women in Zimbabwe are at a greater risk of developing the disease for reasons still to be researched on.
Cervical cancer is a tumour that tends to spread to other parts of the body arising from cells originating in the opening of the cervix.
One of the most common symptoms of cervical cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding but in some cases there may be no obvious symptoms until the cancer has progressed to an advanced stage.