The month of March was significant to the Cancer Awareness Campaign in Rwanda and could be pivotal to changing the way we look at cancer in the country from now on.
The Women Empowerment Cancer Advocacy Network (WE CAN) held its 4th Annual East Africa Breast and Cervical Cancer Education, Advocacy and Outreach Summit at the Kigali Convention Center, March 24-26, 2017.
The Summit brought together over 70 cancer survivors, and advocates from 10 countries as well as local clinicians and policy makers.
It was co-hosted by the US National Cancer Institute Center for Global Health in partnership with local organisations, including Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa Inc, the Ministry of Health, Rwanda and Partners in Health.
WE CAN aims at connecting patients, advocates, survivors, medical professionals and policy makers to change the women’s cancers around the world.
The summits provide education and foster capacity building, knowledge transfer and sharing of lessons learned in advocacy and outreach to dispel damaging myths and misconceptions about cancer and empower women to be successful leaders in their communities and better informed public policy and social norm change.
Thought provoking and action charged objectives were tabled to inspire participants to:
- Improve knowledge regarding breast and cervical cancer prevention and treatment
- Raise awareness about resource–stratified guidelines for breast and cervical cancer
- Foster discussion on successful integration of cancer into existing health services (HIV/AIDS, Maternal Health, Cervical Screening)
- Improve advocates’ understanding of radiation treatment
- Educate survivors and patient advocates on how to work with local government, medical professionals, and both private and public sectors to further breast cancer advocacy efforts
- Link advocates with clinicians, media and policy makers
- Foster capacity building and development of coalitions and alliances
- Share information, best practices and “Lessons Learned” in cancer advocacy and survivor support.
The energy and impact from the WE CAN summit was manifested with our BCIEA’s One Smartphone per Village Training of 17 women and 3 men, March 28-28, 2017 that followed.
The group was composed of breast cancer survivors and volunteers, committed to go into their own villages where they are known and trusted and disseminate life-saving information about breast cancer as BCIEA’s village ambassadors.
This two day intense and hands-on training was graciously sponsored by AFRON, an Italian NGO that works in Uganda and other parts of Africa.
One Smartphone per Village Program aims at leveraging the power of technology on our daily life and the importance of “knowing and trust” that exist in individual villages.
76% of Rwandans own/use cell phones and yet many lack access to life-saving information in particular, information about breast cancer.
According to current information from Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, RBC, CHUK Teaching Hospital, Rwanda Military Hospital, and King Faisal Hospital most breast cancer cases, 57%, are presented at late stages of the disease when treatment is costly, difficult or impossible.
Prevalence of late stage cases of breast cancer is associated with lack of cancer awareness. This makes increasing awareness about cancer in Rwanda imperatively urgent.
Since it is more likely that a neighbour will easily accept/believe new information from her neighbour than from a stranger, the non-threatening value, a volunteer village ambassador brings is core to our programme.
One Smartphone per Village has potential to exponentially increase breast cancer awareness, easily and cost effectively while it instills leadership skills and ownership of the burden of cancer in Rwanda starting at village level.
The programme is supported by BCIEA’s breast health awareness/educational mobile Application in English, accessible on Android and iPhone Smartphone accompanied by a printed Guide in Kinyarwanda.
A carefully selected member of a village, preferably a breast cancer survivor or anybody partial to or impacted by breast cancer or a volunteer is trained on breast cancer basics, awareness and appropriate communication skills including knowing the disclaimer that she/he is not a health worker but an Information Disseminator.
The trained villager is equipped with a donated Smartphone, loaded with BCIEA Awareness/Educational, mobile Application, a printed guide in Kinyarwanda and Journal and deployed to her/his own home area where he/she is known and trusted as our Village Ambassador.
We are working on translating the APP into Kinyarwanda, adding onto it data collection function and making it offline and accessible to basic cell phones for larger audience.
The Village Ambassador utilises the Umuganda and Umugoroba w'Ababyeyi as her platforms to share her message.
In 2016, we had 17 Ambassadors and their reports showed average ranges of people reached per village at: 120 -700, this is impressive if we estimate the average people in one village to be 800.
Rwanda has 14,847 villages; can you imagine if we had one Ambassador in each village?
Can it be done? “People always think it’s impossible until it’s done,” Nelson Mandela said.
The writer is the Founder & Director of Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA) Inc. www.breeastcancerafrica.org