By Nancy Handabile –
Every fight needs a hero, a figure that can speak and be listened to. This fight in particular is Cancer – a disease so dreadful that it has been called one of the greatest threats of our time.
Zambia was for a long time under the illusion that it was insulated from this scourge until the statistics started coming in, the ratings (and not the good ones either) scared the nation and probably sent many into panic mode.
The fact that Zambia was rated second in the world regarding cervical cancer just next to Papua New Guinea is far from an accolade.
Cervical cancer is not the only cancer Zambia is battling with, ther are still frightening cases of other forms of cancer such as breast cancer, skin cancer and lung cancer among others.
All is not lost however; with Zambia now having screening facilities in major clinics as well as an equipped cancer hospital, one can boldly say there is hope.
There are organisations that have grown in the past years to not only provide assistance to cancer patients and their care givers, but also lobby Government.
Zambia Cancer Society (ZCS), for example, have their Hope basket containing basic groceries and toiletries which they give to women at the Cancer Hospital.
They also provide transport to cancer patients and their care givers as well as help towards ward AO6, which is where children with cancer are.
There is the Breakthrough Cancer Trust which has for so long provided a voice and advocacy for Cancer patients and care givers.
The Kayula Childhood Cancer Foundation has provided a home where care-givers and children with cancer can stay while undergoing treatment or in-between treatments because cancer treatment takes a long time and many give up because of the huge cost implications involved.
All the organisations are doing a commendable job and they now have a prominent ally in the First Lady Christine Kaseba.
Dr Kaseba’s work has involved advocacy, speaking out on issues relating to cancer and calling on the Government to change certain things.
It helps matters that she is a doctor, an obstetrician-gynecologist to be precise, thus she speaks on the health issues with passion coming from a back-ground of an informed view of someone who has seen the pain and destruction that cancer wroughts in its path.
Her tireless efforts have not gone unnoticed as she is the recipient of various International and Regional awards .
On May 5 this year, Dr Kaseba was conferred with an Honorary Fellowship Award for her professional work as an obstetrician-gynaecologist at the 61st 2013 American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) Annual Clinical Meeting.
The Fellowship is given to individuals who have attained national and international recognition in the field of obstetrics, gynecology or an allied discipline.
In May 2013, Dr Kaseba received a Frontline Award from the Global Coalition on Health in recognition of her work in women and children health issues.
The Coalition also recognised her work in reproductive health, cervical cancer, and her efforts to improve maternal health.
She was also honoured with an award on August 28 th 2012 from the American Cancer Society in recognition of her work against Cervical and Breast cancer.
She then dedicated her award to cancer survivers as a salute to the fight that they endure and how victorious it is to survive cancer.
American Cancer Society are the leading global umbrella body for the fight against Cancer world-wide.
They are responsible for the Relay for Life events of which Zambia now hosts annually under the auspices of Zambia Cancer Society.
In September 2012, the First Lady was also honoured with the Global Leadership of Excellence Award by the cancer foundation – Susan G Komeni.
The award recognised the exemplary personal commitment of Dr. Kaseba –Sata possesses in the fight against cervical cancer in Zambia.
She has also been on record calling on Zambian men to get screened for prostrate cancer by also informing them that prostate cancer is among the highly dangerous health conditions that can lead to suffering and sometimes mortality.
Her call is significant because despite prostrate cancer been higher in black men it is a form of cancer which is rarely talked about.
Of course as an Oby-Gyn her work involved a lot of obstetric and gynaeocology issues but she proved that even now as First lady she is not squeamish about getting her hands dirty.
In September she operated on two cervical cancer patients at Mkushi district hospital taking time to speak with patients and re-assure many who gathered that she would continue lobbying the government with a view to ensuring that the health sector is given the much-needed attention.
She made global headline in UNAIDS reception in Lusaka on November,5 th 2013 when she called for attention to be paid towards the link between cancer and HIV/AIDS.
“It is also worrying that as the quality of life improves for most men and women in Zambia, diseases, such as cervical cancer that have a direct and fatal link to HIV continue to claim the lives of many women – most of whom are HIV positive.
“Given the vast investments in fighting HIV, in attention to cervical cancer and other non-communicable diseases will reverse all the gains that this country and other countries have made.” She said
Granted there is much that still needs to be done, there are great strides that still have to be taken but it goes without saying that the presence of Dr Kaseba in the frontline is an advantage as well as a source of inspiration.
It increases Zambia’s visibility globally in the cancer fight but most importantly it sends a strong message of hope to Zambians.
She at the same event made an assuring statement: I would like to assure you of my own personal commitment and that of the President, to the fight against cancer and HIV to improve the health conditions of women and girls in Zambia. Together we stand and together we shall succeed.