Zambia prioritizing disease prevention, as govt performs over 110,000 cervical cancer tests in 2023


Cervical cancer mortality rates in Zambia are alarmingly high, with over 110,000 Human Papilloma Virus tests having been performed in 2023, health authorities say.

Minister of Health, Sylvia Masebo, said measures had since been instituted in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) cervical cancer elimination initiative.

Masebo said this when a team from the Global Cervical Cancer Elimination Initiative paid a courtesy call on her in Lusaka on Thursday to discuss some of the areas of interest to both WHO and government.

She said using a multisectoral approach, more than 40,000 women were screened using the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) based method in 2023.

“Cervical cancer is the most common cause of cancer deaths among women in Zambia and the peak age of cervical cancer diagnosis is around 40 to 49 years, representing women at the peak of their economic capacity,” Masebo stated.

The minister said to reach the elimination efforts, the Ministry had accelerated the 90 percent coverage of HPV vaccination of girls between 9 to 14 years.

She said HPV vaccination was now mainly provided through the school-based platform as most of the target population are school going girls and the vaccines are also provided through health facilities and outreach services to cater for out of school girls.

“In September last year, government launched the HPV multi-age cohort campaign which targeted 1.5 million girls aged 9 to 14 years and the coverage during the campaign was 63,” Masebo highlighted.

She added that government targeted to screen 70 percent of the eligible population by the year 2030 and the HPV testing had been expanded to all 10 provinces with each province having a regional central laboratory.

Masebo stated that the transition to HPV testing had faced challenges such as erratic supply of HPV test kits and reagents, but that efforts are being made to overcome these barriers.

The minister said government was also addressing the geographical barriers to treatment and care that many rural communities face.

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“To reach the elimination efforts, government is expanding services through decentralization of cancer treatment services by establishing two regional centers. One will serve the Northern circuit and the other will cover the Southern circuit,” she said.

Masebo indicated that Zambia was prioritizing disease prevention as a bedrock of the health service delivery.

She assured that government wanted to see non-communicable diseases, physical activity, child and maternal health, prevention through immunization and health emergencies be taken to primary health care.

“The Ministry has embarked on a comprehensive approach to address the three main pillars which are being implemented simultaneously and at a larger scale namely prevention, screening and treatment of pre-cancerous lesions and management of invasive cervical cancer,” Masebo said.

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