Scrap Cervical Cancer User Fees for Women Living with HIV- Gvt told

CIVIL Society Organisations (CSOs), representing women living with HIV have called on government to scrap user fees for cervical cancer treatment since the disease is most prevalent in women living with HIV than other groups.

By Michael Gwarisa in Gweru

According to the Zimbabwe National Cancer Registry, cervical cancer affects not less than 30 percent of women in the country. Cervical cancer is caused by the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV).

Speaking in a panel discussion during the just ended Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) workshop in Gweru that was organised by the Pan African Positive Women’s Coalition Zimbabwe (PAPWC-Zim) and ZWLWHF and UNAIDS, PAPWC national coordinator, Tendai Westerhof said accessing cervical cancer treatment was unaffordable.

Issues of Cervical Cancer are issues of concern to us women living with HIV. We are more vulnerable to the HPV virus than women who are not living with HIV. The challenge is that yes Visual Inspection with Acetic Acid and Camera (VIAC) is now available, you get screened but the treatment is not readily available, it is very expensive.

“We want user fees for cervical cancer to be scrapped so that it becomes normal for every women to just visit a health centre to get this cervical cancer screening and treatment. VIAC alone is not enough. We want comprehensive universal care from awareness, prevention, screening and holistic treatment for cervical cancer to women who have it,” said Westerhof.

HIV-positive women are living longer, however, the effects of cervical cancer are now leading to numerous deaths for this particular group. In Zimbabwe, cervical cancer is now the most common cancer among women, particularly those living with HIV.

According to research, even though condoms are said to lower the risk of getting HPV, they do not prevent the risk of acquiring this virus completely. About 1,900 women are diagnosed with the disease every year in Zimbabwe and 2000 die, according to the UN World Health Organization.

Josephine Ncube, a woman living with HIV from Matobo district said there were numerous barriers to accessing cervical cancer screening and treatment services and as a result women living with HIV end up giving up on treatment.

“We have barriers to accessing cervical cancer screening in the district, contextual factors include distance, public transport issues, work commitment and poor patient centred communication skills. Patients also lack of knowledge of cervical cancer and the benefits of screening is also rampart.

“Cervical cancer screening services are poorly accessed due to a weak primary health care system and insufficient developed health promotions. These issues could be addressed by establishing one stop shops that offer comprehensive SRHR services,” said Ncube.
She added that the most affected population are the elderly women and government should consider decentralising cervical cancer services as well as allocating resources to combat the deadly ailment.

Meanwhile, Ministry of Health and Child Care’s (MoHCC), Dr Misheck Gororo said government has scaled up cervical cancer screening and by 2018, the country had 106 sites that were offering screening services countrywide.

“The goal is that we have every women being screened for cervical cancer. As ministry, there are various things that are being done and one of the things is to check where our program is going and its impact and also see if we making any progress and see if we do something that we can use to track and have results.

“So the ministry is following up on indicators. One of the indicators that are being followed is to assess the percentage between the ages of 15 and 49 who have hears about cervical cancer. It actually very shoclik8ng because in some places there are some people who don’t even know about cancer and its treatment,” said Dr Gororo.

He added that it is cheaper to be screened for cervical cancer than to be treated and women should capitalise on government’s program to receive early diagnosis and treatment.

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