Saving Lives from Cervical Cancer in Zambia

by Melissa Silverman

Every two minutes, a woman dies of cervical cancer somewhere in the world. Far too many of these women live in Zambia, which has one of the highest cervical cancer rates of any nation. Yet, almost all of these tragedies are preventable, either through the HPV vaccine or through early screening and treatment.

PCI has long and deep experience tackling the challenge of cervical cancer in Zambia and has worked with partners on the ground for more than seven years to screen and treat almost 22,000 women. Based on this success, PCI launched a new program in 2019 with the support of the U.S. government's President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S Department of Defense HIV Prevention Program (DHAPP).

This new program brings health care services directly to women, wherever they are. PCI has partnered with the Zambia Defense Forces (ZDF), who serve as frontline health service providers to meet the specific needs of vulnerable women living with HIV and cervical cancer.

Women living with HIV are at least five times more likely to develop cervical cancer than their HIV-negative peers, and they have twice the risk for death from invasive cervical cancer within three years than women who do not have HIV. When the joint burdens of cervical cancer and HIV are addressed together, women's lives are saved.

To achieve this goal, PCI and ZDF train providers to provide integrated HIV/cervical cancer testing and screening in mobile and static health sites. Women who test positive for HIV are linked to antiretroviral therapy (ART) services, and then screened for cervical cancer. Those who have precancerous lesions are provided with or linked to treatment, improving survival rates for both diseases.

This solution has inspired community change and identified new leaders, including 50-year-old Ezelina Phiri in Chipata district. "Ever since I screened and learned that I am well, I have become an activist, referring women to the clinic for proper screening," Phiri said. "It is my passion to encourage women to put their health first, and it is my mission to ensure every woman I know is screened and is free of cervical cancer."

PCI is proud to support Zambia's strategy to reduce cervical cancer mortality by 25% by 2025, and to help move Zambia toward the global goal of cervical cancer elimination.

"By targeting the most vulnerable women, offering them services in a way that meets their needs, and giving low-level health care workers the tools and training to provide high-quality services, PCI is a key player in moving toward eventual cervical cancer elimination in Zambia - a country that is setting an example for other African nations on scaling up access to cervical cancer interventions."

- PCI partner TogetHER for Health