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Vaccination for girls aged 14 starts this year – Chilufya

HEALTH minister Dr Chitalu Chilufya says the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination will be part of the routine immunisation for young girls aged 14 nationwide starting this year.

Dr Chilufya says approximately 30 to 50 per cent of cancers can be prevented by avoiding or controlling lifestyles known to cause the disease.

Commemorating the World Cancer Day in Solwezi under the global theme: ‘I am and I will’ and the local theme ‘I am concerned. I will fight cancer’, Dr Chilufya said the decision to immunise follows the approval of the National Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination application by Gavi.

He said as people live healthier lifestyles and periodically screen for cancers, it was important to remember that early detection improves outcomes for most cancers.

“Early detection could be the difference between successful and unsuccessful treatment. Early detection saves lives,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said understanding the modifiable risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing cancers such as: tobacco use, insufficient physical activity, harmful use of alcohol, unhealthy diets, cancer associated infections and environmental factors were cardinal steps in cancer prevention.

“We can also reduce our risk from many cancers by maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of 10 cancers namely bowel, breast, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic, esophagus, kidney, liver, prostate and gall bladder cancers. We need to make specific changes to our diets like limiting the intake of red meat and avoiding processed meat. Alcohol is also strongly linked with and increases risk of several cancers. Reducing alcohol consumption decreases the risk of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, bowel, liver and breast. Tobacco use also increases the risk of many cancers, including that of the lung, head and neck cancers, cervix and bowel,” he said. “More than a third of common cancers could be prevented by a healthy diet, being physically active and maintaining a healthy body weight. Everyone can make healthy lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of cancer.”

Dr Chilufya said cancer was one of the leading causes of deaths globally, with approximately 14 million new cases recorded each year.

“From the WHO statistics based on data from the Zambia National Cancer Registry, the estimated total number of new cases in 2018 were over 12,000 whereas the total number of deaths were 7,380 representing approximately 60 per cent of all new cancer cases,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said the most common cancers in Zambia were cervical cancer with 3,000 new cases in 2018, followed by Kaposis Sarcoma at 1,700, Prostate cancer at 1,230 followed by breast cancer at 900.

“In children, the common cancers include Leukaemia (cancer of the blood), Kaposis sarcoma (cancer of the skin), Nephroblastoma (cancer of the kidney) and Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye),” he said.

Dr Chilufya said some of the milestones scored under the cancer prevention and control programme include setting up of 84 cervical cancer screening sites across the country and early treatment for pre-cancer abnormalities on the cervix.

“Following the approval of the National Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccination application by Gavi, HPV vaccination will be part of the routine immunisation for young girls aged 14 nationwide starting this year. In addition, government through the Ministry of Health in partnership with Merck Foundation, has trained three medical officers in the super-specialties of surgical oncology, paediatric medical oncology and gynaecologic oncology, offered at Tata Memorial Centre/Hospital, a Centre of Excellence in cancer care in India and the region around,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said the country now had a Zambian paediatric medical oncologist, surgical oncologist and gynaecologic oncologist for the first time.

“With continued partnership from Merck Foundation, six doctors will be sent to India and Egypt to specialise in various fields of oncology. Further, two more doctors are training as gynaecologic oncologists under the University of North Carolina collaboration in collaboration with Women and Newborn Hospital,” he said.

Dr Chilufya said the government had partnered with St Jude Children’s Hospital, USA, to help improve treatment outcomes in children with cancer.

He said the government had also advanced plans to decentralise to the rest of the country with two new cancer treatment centres planned for construction on the Copperbelt and Southern provinces.

“We have trained over 400 health workers in cervical cancer screening since inception with more than 80,000 women screened for cervical cancer in 2018. Government is committed to expanding cancer prevention and control programs country-wide whilst ensuring financial stability, sustainability, and quality services for all our citizens,” he said.

“…in North-Western Province, two cervical cancer screening centres have been opened at Solwezi Urban Health Centre and Kalumbila Rural Health in Solwezi and Kalumbila districts, respectively.”

Dr Chilufya said for a number of cancers, increasing awareness of how cancer presents and the importance of timely treatment has been shown to improve survival.

“With the right information, individuals can be encouraged to know what is normal for their body and to recognise any unusual or persistent changes. Maintaining social support networks and talking about cancer are important strategies for coping with the social and emotional impact of cancer, both in the short and long term,” he said. “This is true for both the person living with cancer and their care givers. Support can come from many sources; partners, friends, family, colleagues, healthcare professionals and counsellors with some people choosing to join self-help or support groups. The support can provide caring and supportive environment for people living with cancer to express their feelings and reduce anxiety and fear.”

Dr Chilufya said the fight against cancer faces numerous challenges such as inadequately skilled manpower, low awareness levels and the general misconceptions that members of the public hold, which leads to late detection of the disease.

“It is time to make a personal commitment to fight cancer. Challenges are however not insurmountable,” said Dr Chilufya. “The call to action in preventing cancer is asking you to stop smoking, reduce alcohol intake, increase physical activities and eat healthy diets with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. “

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