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Zambia Welcomes Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon | Lusaka, Zambia

December 3, 2011 5 minute Read by Eric G. Bing

Traveling through Lusaka, Zambia, as part of the international public/private partnership dedicated to dramatically reducing preventable deaths caused by women’s cancers— Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) — it’s clear to me why Zambia was chosen to launch the ambitious initiative. We traveled to the George Urban Health Center and Cancer Diseases Hospital to visit with cancer survivors-many HIV positive. We listened to many heart-felt stories of survival from patients and health care providers. The experience was a testament to how leveraging existing resources and combining the efforts of governments and the private sector can produce inspiring, durable health outcomes. This is what Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative plans to build upon by dramatically increasing screening and treatment for pre-cancer, providing HPV vaccinations to girls, and expanding cancer education. Zambia is lauded as the first-of-kind success in early detection and treatment of cervical and breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. Zambia was chosen as the initial site for the PRRR initiative because it has the premier early detection and treatment program for cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. The cornerstones of Zambia’s effort to combat cervical and breast cancer is the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka and the Cervical Cancer Prevention Program in Zambia (CCPPZ). Started in January 2006, the CCPPZ is the first in any resource-constrained African nation to specifically target HIV-infected women. CCPPZ now operates 17 clinics, 5 of which are outside Lusaka. The program has also added rural mobile cervical cancer screening services in the Northern and Luapula Provinces. As of February 2011, the clinics have screened approximately 57,000 women, one third of whom test positive for HIV. At the George Health Centre we saw how a nurse can diagnose cervical pre-cancer by simply placing a dilute vinegar solution on the cervix. A precancerous lesion turns white and can be immediately treated by being frozen off with liquid nitrogen. This procedure is not only effective but very inexpensive. The George Urban Health Center in Lusaka Zambia was chosen as the site to announce Zambia as the first partner country of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative to dramatically expand critically needed breast and cervical cancer interventions. George Urban Health Center is located in a densely populated “compound”—an informal settlement—in the George Township, approximately 7 kilometers northwest of Lusaka city center. George compound is one of the city’s largest, with an estimated catchment population of 122,302 individuals and a community which is among the poorest in Lusaka. Thanks to the Zambian universal health care system, patients receive cancer treatment for free. Prior to the CCPPZ and the Cancer Diseases Hospital opening, expensive strategies for diagnosis and treatment –like travel abroad--were used and the cost shouldered by the Zambian Ministry of Health per patient was double its current cost. First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba, a gynecologist who has cared for many women with HIV and cancer, led our international delegation and pledged to advocate for cancer control among women. She was joined by President George W. Bush who formally announced Zambia as a Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative county; US Ambassador Mark Storella who pledged an additional $3 million over 5 years to expand US efforts to dramatically scale up cervical cancer treatment and the creation of a regional center of excellence training center; and Sr. Joseph Kasonde, Minister of Health who reported that Zambia has increased its budget for antiretroviral medication by 50% over last year. They were joined by Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative partners that also pledged support for the initiative in Zambia: Gary Cohen, Executive Vice President, Becton Dickinson; Katrina McGhee, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Dr. Sheila Tlou, Regional Director, UNAIDS.

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