African First Ladies are pushing for improved systems that can detect cancer at its early stages as part of a wider approach to contain the disease, especially among women and girls.
They made the call on Wednesday at the Organisation of African First Ladies against HIV/AIDs (OAFLA) panel discussion on Breast and Cervical Cancer in Africa, held in the margins of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.
Rwanda’s First Lady Jeannette Kagame shared experiences from Rwanda, highlighting the status of cancer, current interventions and challenges.
OAFLA panel discussion on Breast and Cervical Cancer in Africa, held in the margins of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.
The First Lady, who attended the panel discussion alongside President Paul Kagame, highlighted Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) immunisation campaigns, which are carried out across the country to ensure that girls aged 12 years at primary health care level are immunised as one of the successful stories.
Among the key points raised and discussed during the panel discussion includedthe need to improve systems so that cancer can be detected faster, using affordable methods whenever required and reinforce capacity building through public-private partnerships.
The event aimed to address socio-economic issues affecting vulnerable girls and women.
Cancer reportedly accounts for one in every six deaths worldwide – more than HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to statistics from World Health Organisations.
Currently there is an estimated 14.1 million cases of cancer diagnosed around the world and 8.2 million cancer deaths. According to WHO, of these deaths, approximately 70 per cent occur in low-to-middle income countries, many of which lack adequate medical resources and health systems to address this disease.
In Africa, the burden of cancer is growing heavier and more significant.
For instance, WHO says that in 2012, there was an estimated 846,961 new cases of cancer and 591,169 deaths.
In 2018 this number grew to 1,055,172 new cases of cancer and 693,487 deaths caused by cancer.
In Africa, this prevalence is linked to late presentation, low access to treatment and poor treatment outcomes.
In 2016, cancer prevalence in Rwanda was estimated at 14,227, with an annual mortality rate of 6,444, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
By 2018, this estimate was at 17,997 with an annual mortality of 7,662.
More specifically, breast and cervical cancers are known to be the cause of most cancer deaths in Rwanda.
In 2012, cervical cancer accounted for 16 per cent of all cancer cases and 13 per cent of all cancer deaths in the country. Breast cancers accounted for 576 cancer cases, resulting in 286 deaths.
There are currently 10,704 new cancers cases in Rwanda and 7,662 estimated deaths overall.
Over a period of five years, cervical and breast cancer have made up 2,410 cancer cases and are responsible for 2,149 deaths.
Independent journalist and broadcaster and moderator of the panel, Mr.Henry Bonsu presenting illustrated outcomes of the panel discussion.
Cancer prevention and control has been integrated in the existing health system, offering Rwandans at community level and through tertiary hospitals, a well-defined package of services.
These include, awareness raising campaigns, screening of breast and cervical cancer, diagnosis and treatment.
The government is working with community health workers, home based care practitioners, local leaders, churches and civil society to raise public awareness on risk factors, signs and symptoms of cancer to encourage regular and early check-ups.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) immunization is promoted and offered to girls aged 12 years during vaccination campaigns and done at primary health care level. As a result, more than 93 per cent of young girls are vaccinated against HPV to date.
For women aged between 30 and 49 years, cervical cancer screening and treatment (using cryotherapy) are offered in more than 52 per cent of hospitals and health centres.
They are encouraged to go for check-ups for both breast and cervical cancers, among other NCDs, as it is covered by their community health insurance.
To-date, professionals in all Rwanda’s health facilities are trained in the early detection of cancer through Clinical Breast Exam (CBE), while Diagnostic Mammography is offered to students in University teaching hospitals.
Rwanda has five hospitals equipped with equipped laboratories enabling them to diagnose cancer.
In the country, the journey of a cancer patient starts at the primary health care level, where trained health professional examine suspected cancer diseases based on signs and symptoms and refer to University teaching hospitals for confirmation.
Among others, palliative care services are integrated in all health facilities and now have started the decentralization in the community through Home-Based Care Practitioners providing palliative care at home.
Mrs Kagame also attended a reception hosted by the First Lady of the USA, Mrs Melania Trump, followed by an event hosted by the First Lady of Niger, Dr Lalla Malika Issoufou, themed ‘Impact of Community Interventions’.