HEALTH Minister Dr Jonas Chanda says Zambia recorded an estimated 8,672 deaths due to cancer in 2020.

Speaking during the conclusion of the celebration of World Cancer Month, Wednesday, Dr Chanda revealed that there were about 13,831 new cancer cases in 2020.

“Today, we commemorate the conclusion of the celebration of World Cancer Month. February is significant because it builds a campaign to inspire change and mobilise action in the fight against cancer. The local theme for this year is ‘I am a fighter and I will/together, all our actions matter’. In the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, this theme is an empowering call-to-action urging for personal commitments and represents the power of the individual action taken now to fight cancer. The theme emphasizes the need for individuals to harness and mobilize the solutions and catalyse positive change in cancer control. ‘I am and I will’ shows us that our actions have an impact on everyone around us within our neighbourhoods and communities. The International Childhood Cancer day was commemorated on the 15th of February led by our First Lady, Mrs Esther Lungu. It is a global collaborative campaign to raise awareness about childhood cancer and to express support for children and adolescents with cancer, the survivors and their families. The message for 2021 is ‘Better survival through our hands’,” Dr Chanda said.

“Approximately 70% of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries. Cancer exerts a tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities, health systems, and countries. Zambia had an estimated total number of 13,831 new cases in 2020, whereas the number of deaths was estimated at 8,672 representing approximately 63% of all new cancer cases. Globally, more than 300,000 children and adolescents under 19, are diagnosed with cancer annually.”

Dr Chanda said the survival rate for childhood cancer remained at 30 percent despite remarkable advances being made in the treatment of the disease.

“In Zambia, the common childhood cancers include Leukemia (cancer of the blood), Kaposi’s sarcoma (cancer of the skin), Nephroblastoma (cancer of the kidney) and Retinoblastoma (cancer of the eye). Childhood cancer generally cannot be prevented or screened therefore improving outcomes for children with cancer requires early and accurate diagnosis followed by effective treatment. Remarkable advances have been made in the treatment of childhood cancer but the survival rate in Zambia, approximately 30%. The Patriotic Front government under the leadership of His Excellency, Mr Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia, has prioritized cancer prevention and control in its quest to attain universal health coverage. Government is committed to expanding cancer prevention and control programs country-wide whilst ensuring financial stability, sustainability, and quality services for all our citizens,” Dr Chanda said.

“The Zambian government has made significant strides in advancing cancer control, inclusive of childhood cancer. Reducing the burden of cancer in Zambia is important in the attainment of UHC and SDGs. Allow me to appreciate WHO and other partners for their support in improving treatment outcomes and survival for childhood cancer in Zambia. With support from WHO Zambia is one of the 3 priority countries for the Global Childhood Cancer Initiative in the African region, WHO has been providing support for the development/adaptation and implementation of tools and technical packages that will contribute to achieving the goal of improved survival of children with cancer in Zambia.”

Dr Chanda said over 200,000 women were screened for cervical cancer in 2020 and that 250, 000 adolescent girls had been fully vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) in Zambia.

“Zambia continues to show leadership in issues of cervical cancer elimination. Participating in the Global Strategy to Accelerate Cervical Cancer Elimination, we are part of the first six wave countries chosen by the WHO to demonstrate measures that will lead to the decline of this disease as a public health problem,” Dr Chanda said.

“The cervical cancer elimination program has made remarkable progress and we are committed to reach the 90-70-90 targets by 2030. Cervical screening services are now available in close to 170 health facilities across the country accounting for 96 percent coverage at district level. Over 200,000 women were screened for the first time in 2020 and over 850,000 women have been screened at least once since program inception. Today over 250,000 adolescent girls have been fully vaccinated against HPV in Zambia. HPV vaccination is a long-term game changer in significantly reducing the number of cervical cancer cases.”

He said government had advanced plans to decentralise cancer treatment centres in the country.

“Breast cancer is a growing problem in Zambia but on this front, we are also making progress. Following the launch of the national guidelines of early diagnosis of breast cancer in Zambia last year, new breast cancer early detection clinics will be established at provincial levels. The Matero Level 1 Hospital early diagnosis clinic model will replicate countrywide. Over 2000 women with symptoms have been seen. Fortunately, 64 percent of those who needed ultrasound guided biopsies had early detection of malignancy. Government through the Ministry of Health in partnership with Merck Foundation, has trained a further six oncology specialists across the various medical disciplines. Additional oncologists are being trained locally and internationally,” he said.

“The government has also advanced plans to decentralize cancer to the rest of the country with two new cancer treatment centres planned for construction on the Copperbelt and Southern provinces. These centres, when established, will significantly improve access to cancer services in Zambia.It is important to note that approximately 30-50 percent of cancers can be prevented by avoiding or controlling lifestyles that are known to cause cancer. 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 are cardinal steps in cancer prevention.”

He urged citizens to periodically screen for cancer.

“Let us periodically screen for cancers. Early detection improves outcomes for most cancers. Early detection saves lives. For cancer patients and their caregivers 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.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,” said Dr Chanda.

“In the same vein of support groups, some of our citizens have deemed it fit to remind us of prostate cancer that takes the lives of many men all over the world, especially black men by establishing the Prostate Cancer Campaign-Zambia. This is a commendable initiative indeed. I am told that the vision of PCCZ is, ‘to carry out a sustainable campaign of sensitizing male citizens above the age of 40 in both urban and rural communities on the risk factors and symptoms of prostate cancer and the need for early detection and effective treatment and cure’. It is now my pleasure and honor to officially launch this noble cause on this 24th day of February, 2021, during the world cancer month for raising public awareness on cancer diseases. I now declare the prostate cancer campaign Zambia, launched.”