First Lady Jeannette Kagame is expected to launch a prevention of Cervical Cancer programme today, which will see girls between the age of 11-15 years vaccinated.
The programme also targets women between the age of 35-45 years, who will be diagnosed and treated from one the leading killers of women worldwide.
Rwanda becomes the first African state to use the Human Papilloma virus (HPV) Vaccination for girls and screening for women.
Addressing the press yesterday, the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Health, Dr. Agnes Binagwaho referred to the comprehensive programme as a “revolution”, considering that only developed countries have previously undertaken the programme.
“It is a revolution. We are the first African country to have a comprehensive, coordinated plan to eliminate cervical cancer,” Dr. Binagwaho said.
“We are going to vaccinate young girls for early prevention, and diagnose and treat women between the ages of 35 and 45, using some of the best technologies in the world to ensure that cervical cancer does not kill our women anymore,” she added.
Dr. Binagwaho said the idea to roll out the programme started three years ago after discussions between the First Lady and the other partners, Qiagen N.V and Merck.
She noted that Rwanda has a population of 2.72 million women aged 15 years and beyond, who are at a risk of developing cervical cancer. This is the most frequent cancer among women in Rwanda, especially between the ages of 15 and 45.
“The vaccination and screening programme to be done with the most advanced technologies in the world, will bring us closer to our goal of protecting girls and women from killer diseases, in line with our Vision 2020 and health sector strategic plan,” Dr. Binagwaho said.
She added that a countrywide sensitisation programme would reach all women in the country in the next three years.
The first three years of the national prevention programme will see Merck provide over 2 million doses of Gardasil to the government at no cost while Qiagen will provide 250,000 HPV screening tests alongside all necessary equipment and training at no cost.
Merck will provide the Gardasil HPV vaccine types, 6, 11, 16 and 18.
According to Binagwaho, the vaccine is effective among girls who have not had their first sexual encounter. According to research, the right age to vaccinate girls is 12 years.
Dr. Mark Feinberg, the Chief Public Health and Science Officer at Merck Vaccines, said the comprehensive programme would be a “world changing experience” for Rwanda.
“Rwanda has taken an integrated comprehensive programme which is something other developing countries should learn from and implement.”
“The vaccination, screening and treatment of cancer at an early age, as well as the methods used, is something that will make cervical cancer very minimal among women if not done away with completely,” Dr. Feinberg said.
He noted that over 80 percent of cervical cancer cases occur in developing countries, severely impacting on the lives of women, their families and communities, yet such countries cannot afford the vaccines and technologies used to prevent it.
Susan Keese, the vice president of market development at Qiagen, said that the programme would be very important in protecting the lives of women who play a vital role in the development process.
“Young women of today are the future of the world. We believe we can eliminate this disease and we can only do so by integrating technologies,”
“No woman should die of cervical cancer if we have the tools to deal with is. There is political will and commitment, and this is what matters most,” she said
The programme will be launched in schools and communities using community health workers.
After the initial three years, the government will continue with routine vaccination of 12-year old girls, while the two international firms would provide the vaccines and screening technologies at a discount, using GAVI funds.