Mazowe, Zimbabwe – Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020. Between 2009 and 2018, cancer cases in Zimbabwe have almost doubled according to the national cancer registry. This is attributed to factors such as behavioral risk factors for cancer, and poor access to early diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care services.
Increased cases of cancer
To address the increase in cancer cases, the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC), with technical and financial support from World Health Organization (WHO) Zimbabwe and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), convened a workshop to update the country’s National Cancer Control Plan (NCCCP) which was valid from 2014-2018. The workshop was conducted from 6 to 10 June 2022 with key experts from cancer prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care providers, including palliative care, participating in the workshop, together with key cancer stakeholders namely, the Cancer Association of Zimbabwe (CAZ), Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of Zimbabwe (HOSPAZ).
Zimbabwe has had two previous NCCPs, with the most recent one ending in 2018. Furthermore, the Government of Zimbabwe (GoZ) has been implementing several strategies covering cancer prevention, early diagnosis; including screening, treatment and care, to address the rising cancer burden. Such strategies include the introduction of human papillomavirus vaccination against cervical cancer. The country also has a cervical cancer screening program that ensures early detection and treatment of cervical precancer as well as treatment for early cancer. Moreover, GoZ has trained specialists in oncology, oncology nurses and radio oncologists at the government central hospital in Harare. The GoZ has also ensured that the much-needed human resource capacity for treatment and care of cancer are available in public hospitals. Furthermore, the National Pharmaceutical Company, which procures drugs for the country, has been given capacity support to ensure that critical drugs are available and accessible.
National Cancer Control Plan Essential
The objective of the one-week workshop was to review and finalize the draft NCCP which covers the time 2022 – 2026. The process for the development of this NCCP began with the broad stakeholder meeting held in Bulawayo, November 2021. During this stakeholder meeting, priorities for the new NCCP 2022-2026 were identified and developed. A technical team was subsequently appointed by the MoHCC to develop a draft of the NCCP.
The draft NCCP is aligned to Zimbabwe’s National Health Strategy (NHS) 2020-2025. The draft NCCP recommends priority interventions across seven pillars including; cancer control governance, policy and planning; prevention; Screening and early diagnosis; treatment; palliative Care, Rehabilitation and Survivorship; and; Cancer surveillance and research.
In his remarks, Dr Munyaradzi Dobbie, MoHCC, Chief Director Public Health Services, noted “The NCCP will be our guiding document for the mitigation of cancer a major challenge in the health care delivery system. It will help us ensures resources available are maximized as well as mobilize different sectors of society toward a common goal on reduction of cancer burden. Without this NCCP plan, we won’t be able to do that.”
Key stakeholders also expressed their appreciation for the government’s renewed commitment to tackle the growing burden of cancer in Zimbabwe. IAEA, Program Officer, Marianna Nobile, affirmed that the support provided by the IAEA jointly with WHO is aimed at promoting the safe, peaceful, and secure application of nuclear science and technology to address major sustainable development priorities. “The IAEA stands ready to continue assisting Zimbabwe in improving its nuclear and radiation medicine capacities.”
At the end of the workshop, a final draft of the NCCP 2022- 2026 was developed and agreed upon by the technical experts and stakeholders. This document will be shared with the MoHCC for validation and further review to ensure coherence with NHS 2022-2025. Once the validation process is completed, the NCCP 2022- 2026 will be costed with technical support from WHO. The costed NCCP will then be officially launched following which it becomes the guiding document for cancer prevention and control in Zimbabwe for the next 5 years.
The workshop was funded through the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC); a collaboration of WHO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Zimbabwe is one of the focus countries for the initiative.
Following the workshop in Mazowe, the WHO and IAEA team paid a courtesy visit to the Permanent Secretary (PS) for MoHCC, Dr Jasper Chimedza who reaffirmed GoZ commitment to address the cancer burden. “We appreciate WHO’s support and endorse the implementation the costed NCCP once finalized, “noted Dr Chimedza.
This article was first published by the WHO Zimbabwe on 27 June 2022