MINISTER of Health Sylvia Masebo says everyone must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, especially those with serious illnesses like cancer.

And Masebo says many people now only experience mild to moderate COVID-19 symptoms requiring no specific treatment.

Speaking during a COVID-19 briefing, Monday, Masebo said cancer patients were at high risk of developing severe illness as a result of COVID-19 infection.

“Like COVID-19, cancer is not only a health problem, but a threat to socio-economic development, and requires a multi-sectoral response. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose great challenges among people living with or affected by cancer. According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, people with cancer are at higher risk of COVID-19 severe illness and related deaths. It is therefore very important that cancer patients follow the five golden rules and get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Masebo said.

“Let me again emphasise that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a huge threat to the attainment of SDGs and universal health care, UHC. Apart from increased mortality rates due to COVID-19 in Zambia, the pandemic has profoundly impacted cancer control services and overall healthcare delivery services. During this pandemic, my Ministry is tasked with a dual responsibility that includes preventing and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, my ministry has to ensure that routine healthcare services are not so severely disrupted, that people not sick with COVID-19 can also access care.”

She noted that COVID-19 had affected access to cancer screening programmes and had led to delay and logistical challenges for surgical and non-surgical treatment services like chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Masebo, however, said government had now put in place interventions to ensure continuity of routine services.

She said over the four COVID-19 waves which had so far been experienced, the Cancer Diseases Hospital had recorded 281 cases among cancer patients.

Meanwhile, updating the nation on the COVID-19 situation in the country, Masebo said there was currently a positivity rate of three per cent.

“In the last 24 hours, we recorded 43 new COVID-19 cases out of 1,627 tests conducted countrywide, giving an overall national positivity of 3%. We had 9 new admissions and we discharged a total of 256 patients from both home management and facility, leaving 1,696 active cases nationwide. Of the current active cases, 30 (2%) are admitted to hospital with 12 (40%) of these on oxygen therapy and 1 (3%) classified as critically ill. The proportion of unvaccinated patients among the admissions remains high at 93% of current admissions. We did not report any new deaths in the last 24 hours,” said Masebo.

“I wish to re-emphasize the need to adhere to the five golden rules and getting fully vaccinated against COVID-19 whether you have a chronic illness or not. Let us remember to get the booster dose and very importantly, get our children, 12 years and above get vaccinated”.