THE REALITY of cancer presents a significant threat to everyone regardless of age. The prevalence of the disease in this region has grown rapidly and, unfortunately, education and awareness have not grown quite as fast.
Awareness, right from a young age, will go a long way in minimising the burden of the disease as it affects communities in their entirety when individuals fall sick.
Cancer refers to a type of non-communicable disease (not contagious) where the body’s basic unit of life, the cell, begins to divide without control.
When this biological malady spreads to the lymphatic system or bloodstream, the results are disastrous and the disease can rapidly take over.
It is important to understand that this disease does affect all ages and that it is possible to detect the symptoms early and seek treatment.
Understanding the symptoms of cancer is critical in preventing the disease from progressing to a point where little can be done to save the affected life.
While cancer is a general term used to describe more than 100 types of the disease, there are certain cancers that can be screened and diagnosed at an early stage leading to a positive response when treated.
Of the 16 million new cases of cancer expected to occur by the 2020, 70 per cent of those will occur in the developing world, according to a recent report.
According to the African Oxford Cancer Foundation, the burden of cancerous diseases will be borne disproportionately by African countries that lack resources, basic health infrastructure, and specialists able to appropriately diagnose and treat the disease.
While Rwanda is a shining example of positive development, strong infrastructure and healthcare capacity, the country has only one doctor specialised in managing cancer patients (oncologist), but the good news is there are some who are on training abroad.
For the past decades, African states, Rwanda inclusive, have focused their efforts on infectious diseases such as HIV/Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Money and resources were dedicated to education and care surrounding these public health problems with little or no attention paid to cancer.
While there has been a shift and the devastation caused by cancer is beginning to be addressed, the disease still remains a death sentence for many individuals living in poverty in the developing world.
Thanks to the Government of Rwanda, in partnership with Partners in Health, the Dana Farber Institute of Cancer, Brigham Women’s Hospital and the Clinton Foundation, the Butaro Cancer Centre of Excellence was established in 2012 as a response to the rapidly growing instances of cancer in the country.
Since its inauguration, the facility has received and treated over 1,000 cancer patients from within and outside the country, including some from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.
Fortunately, the Ministry of Health has of prioritised cancer awareness, screening and early detection and, subsequently, the number of consultations happening at Butaro have tripled since the centre’s opening and this number is continuing to increase.
However, cancer awareness in Rwanda is not only the responsibility of the Ministry and healthcare providers; it is the responsibility of all individuals to be aware of the disease and its symptoms for their own health as well as the health of their families and communities.
In raising awareness, it is inevitable that early detection will become more prevalent and the survival rate will go up; this is a goal that everyone countrywide can work to achieve.
The writer is the Founder & Director, Rwanda Children’s Cancer Relief and a Medical Doctor, Butaro Hospital, Oncology department.