February 4 is World Cancer Day, marked to raise awareness against different cancers. Rwanda marked the day yesterday, with keen interest on intensifying the fight against cervical cancer.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), 2018 recorded the highest number of new cases of cervical cancer in Rwanda.
New cases of cervical cancer rose by 12.2 per cent to 1,304, the organisation says.
This is followed by breast cancer at 1,131 cases, colorectum cancer (cancers of the rectum and the colon) at 838 cases, stomach cancer at 803, and liver cancer with 737 new cases.
Dr François Uwinkindi, the Director of Cancer Programme at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, says that the cancer cases reported in hospitals in Rwanda are around half of those in WHO statistics.
“WHO puts into account the fact that some cases don’t reach hospitals for diagnosis, therefore WHO statistics are higher than our hospital cases.”
What is being done?
In a meeting aimed at increasing the number of health posts a fortnight ago, Dr Diane Gashumba, the Minister for Health, said there is a plan to upgrade health centres so that they can start offering tests for non-communicable diseases.
This is contained the ministry’s seven year programme.
Uwankindi says that to fight cervical cancer, there is need for a good vaccination programme.
And in this area, he says, Rwanda is doing well with coverage of 93 per cent.
According to WHO, countries should have at least 70 per cent of their eligible women vaccinated against the human papilloma virus, the virus that causes the cancer.
“Vaccination is free and is being provided to girls at 12 years of age. This is done at health facilities, and through campaigns in different places like schools,” he said.
In Rwanda, screening can be done in 26 hospitals and 240 health centres.
However, Uwankindi says that some Rwandan were not responding well to screening services.
A person with insurance cover, mutuelle de santé, can be screened by paying only 200 Rwandan francs.
The screening also targets women aged thirty years and above, since the risk is more as age advances.
Oda Nsabimana, a breast cancer survivor, underscored the importance of early testing.
“The problem is that people fear to test. However, when you know early, cancer is curable. They don’t need to fear because even other diseases kill,” she said.
Nsabimana got to know that she had cancer in 2003.
Early treatment helped her to survive, she said.
Fifteen years ago, cancer patients like Nsabimana had to seek treatment from foreign countries such as Kenya.
However, currently, Rwanda has five hospitals that can provide cancer treatment.
University Teaching Hospital of Kigali offers surgery, King Faisal Hospital offers surgery and drugs, Butaro Cancer Centre offers chemotherapy, Rwanda Military Hospital offers surgery, and will soon have radiotherapy as well, and also offers chemotherapy, while University Teaching Hospital of Butare also does surgery.
Dr Uwankindi says that one of the main challenges is inadequate knowledge on cancer issues among the general public.
Among the ways to prevent cervical cancer, he added, include vaccination, avoiding teenage sex and not having many sexual partners.
He refers to this as primary prevention.
Secondary prevention is mainly through screening. In case there are precancerous signs found, treatment is initiated to avoid the development of cervical cancer.
He added that cervical cancer is treatable when detected early. He advised that a person should go for screening at least once a year.
Government says that in the next three years, all hospitals and health centres across the country will be able to offer cervical cancer screening.
Uwankindi says raising awareness about cervical cancer among women and girls was critical in dealing with the disease.