Women legislators lead fight against cancer

In a move aimed at raising awareness that early detection of cervical cancer saves life, female legislators from the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (ZWPC) have undergone cancer screening.

From left, Gokwe Gumunyu MP Melania Mahiya, Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka, Goodluck Kwaramba, Hurungwe legislator. Looking on is MDC MP for Mufakose and vice chairperson of ZWPC, Paurina Mpariwa.
From left, Gokwe Gumunyu MP Melania Mahiya, Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka, Goodluck Kwaramba, Hurungwe legislator. Looking on is MDC MP for Mufakose and vice chairperson of ZWPC, Paurina Mpariwa.

The exercise, organised by the health ministry in partnership with the ZWPC and Population Services International saw 38 female parliamentarians and 42 other women working in various departments at parliament building benefit from the recent cancer screening exercise. “Our hope is that this initiative is the starting point for female legislators to be ambassadors of the health ministry’s awareness drive in encouraging women to get screened for cervical cancer,” said the caucus vice-chairperson Paurina Mpariwa.

“We decided that we have to set an example so that when we go back to our respective constituencies, we are able to raise awareness and encourage other women to get screened.”

According to the health ministry, cervical cancer accounts for 33,4 percent of all cancer cases in Zimbabwe. It is the leading cause of cancer deaths.

Statistics released by the World Health Organisation in 2010 reported that of the 1,855 women diagnosed with cervical cancer annually in Zimbabwe, 1,286 of them died of it. Cancer of the cervix is caused by persistent infection of Human Papilloma Virus, which is in most cases transmitted sexually. Mpariwa said the ZWPC was optimistic that more female politicians would undergo the screening exercise in the near future in their respective constituencies at various New Start Centres.

“Early diagnosis of cervical cancer saves life and women should be encouraged to get screened early to prevent cancer deaths,” she said. “Women diagnosed with cervical cancer need support mechanisms to help them cope with their condition, which if detected early can be cured,” she said.

Zanu (PF) MP for Makoni in Manicaland, Anna Kavhu, urged government to decentralise cancer screening facilities to the rural areas to accommodate marginalised women.

“The majority of rural women are poor and they cannot afford to go to the provincial hospitals. Mobile cancer screening centres should be deployed to marginalised rural areas,” she said. Zanu (PF) legislator for Hurungwe, Goodlucky Kwaramba, called for partnerships between government and civil society organisations to raise awareness about cancer.

“We have already started educating communities in Hurungwe on the advantages of cancer screening. Our major challenge is that the health centres that provide cancer screening facilities are very few and far from the women,” she said. Kwaramba emphasised the need for male involvement in fighting cervical cancer.

“Our strategies should not target women only but they should also involve men as partners if we are to see more women volunteer to be screened,” she said.

The ZWPC was launched in October 2001 in response to the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum initiative with the assistance of Association of European Parliamentarians with Africa.

Its aim is to encourage unity of purpose among female legislators and encourage women parliamentarians to rise above party politics and address issues of common concern as women.

Membership to the Caucus is open to all Zimbabwean female legislators and former MPs are incorporated upon payment of a prescribed fee. However, they are not entitled to take part in the management of the Caucus neither can they vote.

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