Zimbabwe United Methodists work to defeat cervical cancer

A student at Murewa United Methodist Mission School receives a human papillomavirus vaccine. The vaccine protects against cervical cancer. Photo by Sydney Mapisaunga, deputy head of the school
A student at Murewa United Methodist Mission School receives a human papillomavirus vaccine. The vaccine protects against cervical cancer. Photo by Sydney Mapisaunga, deputy head of the school
In the fight against cervical cancer, The United Methodist Church is striving to raise awareness and promote screenings that lead to early detection. According to Dr. Larry Tanyanyiwa, a United Methodist hospital superintendent, cervical cancer accounts for one-third of all cancer cases in Zimbabwe and is the leading cause of cancer death among Zimbabwean women.

The United Methodist Church’s Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Health Board is highlighting cancers affecting women (cervix and breast) and men (prostate) in the communities it serves. In health education, the boards target people attending circuit, district and conference gatherings. Board members hope that once people are aware, they will go for screening when it is available.

Staff at two large United Methodist hospitals are trained and involved in cervical cancer education and screening. Staff at Old Mutare hospital are not yet trained in this area.

“Management of early stages of cervical cancer is done by specialist gynecologists stationed in central hospitals,” Tanyanyiwa said. “Our (United Methodist Church) institutions do not have posts for these specialists. Even radiotherapy services are not yet (offered) at any of our institutions.” He said such specialized technicians and equipment currently “are out of our reach.”

Dr. Tendai Manyeza, another United Methodist hospital superintendent, confirmed that the best option for advanced cervical cancer is radiotherapy. Currently, that is available at Parirenyatwa and Mpilo Central hospitals.

However, Manyeza noted, “Even after radiotherapy, the prognosis remains very poor. The best is to prevent or detect the disease in its early stages, before it has progressed to the terminal stages.” Many screening programs are not available to the country’s rural majority. Ideally, each rural health center would have screening facilities readily available.

The available strategy currently in place to prevent cervical cancer is to administer the human papillomavirus vaccine to girls ages 10 to 14. Fungai Chihuri, district health associate chair, affirmed that in May 2018, girls in that age bracket would receive HPV vaccinations. This is part of a government initiative. Congregations were encouraged to participate in this national vaccination program.

Pepertua Kaseke, conference health board associate chair, said one district also worked in partnership with a cancer center in Zimbabwe to provide annual VIAC (visual inspection with acetic acid and camera) screening services. The Harare West District asked the health team to offer screening services and refer individuals for follow-up care. Last year, outreach was provided in Chinhoyi, this year in Magunje.

Hannah Mafunda said the conference Connectional Ministries office approved the month of October for cancer awareness. In August, during women’s conventions, guest speaker Ruwadzano Rwe Wadzimai will talk about cervical cancer, and free screenings will be offered.

The Rev. Alan Curupira noted the government initiative to vaccinate adolescent girls resonates with the United Methodist focus on global health. Chihuri said that healthy individuals mean healthier families, communities and congregation. Preventive health care ultimately promotes the well-being of the entire world, he said.

The United Methodist Church is also involved through the Abundant Health program, which is enriching the lives of people around the world.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is part of that initiative, which emphasizes eating healthy foods, disposing of waste properly, exercising regularly and using available resources for self-care. Several districts, including Chitungwiza-Marondera, Harare East, Harare West, Mutoko Mudzi and Rusape, received donations of hula-hoops and jump ropes.

Kumuterera is a communicator with the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference.

News media contact: Vicki Brown, news editor, newsdesk@umcom.org or 615-742-5469. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily Digests.

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