Philippa Kibugu-Decuir is a breast cancer survivor for the last 14 years. She conducts advocacy and education campaigns on breast cancer in the United States where she is resident.
She has brought her knowledge and experience to help and empower Rwandan women.
Important work given the broad acceptance that cancer is a leading cause of death world-wide (7.9 million deaths in 2007 according to WHO); more so in poor developing countries such as Rwanda.
According to the World Health Organisation, about 30% of cancer deaths can be prevented.
“For the past ten years, my survival has become a tool to teach and touch women in my life as a breast health advocate using readily available, life changing information such as early detection, self awareness; and regular clinical screening,” explains Kibugu-Decuir.
She is here in Rwanda to do the same and empower Rwandan women; soon discovering on her mission that apparently none of the above procedures are available for the average Rwandan woman.
To get the best of the above your best bet is an over-seas hospital – hardly affordable for the majority of those not just in need of treatment but just regular screening.
In her determination to find out more about breast cancer and how she can use her experience and personal testimony to the benefit of east African women through her regional organisation, Breast Cancer Initiative, Kubugu-Decuir stumbled upon heart wrenching information, on the situation those suffering from cancer especially women are faced with.
Information that has strengthened her resolve, to mobilise, organise and assist those who are affected by cancer.
“Living in America gave me the hope that very few East African women have. I am testimony that when you are empowered you can survive,” she explains.
A dire situation confronts those diagnosed with cancer in Rwanda; hospitals don’t have medicines or facilities for the treatment of cancer, “Between November 2007 and June 2008, there were 37 cases at CHUK hospital and only one was able to go abroad for treatment,” explains Kibugu-Decuir, a situation further exacerbated by the fact that Rwanda does not have a cancer policy in place.
Juliet’s (we have protected her identity) story has touched her the most and is one example of the broader situation pertaining to women affected by cancer in one form or another.
46 year old Juliet has insurmountable problems related to cancer one cannot even start to describe. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1998, before this as a student, Juliet noticed a blood spot on her leg, but did not realize what it meant.
It was later after noticing a lump in her breast, that she sought medical attention.
As there are no or limited facilities for treatment in Rwanda, Juliet had to cross the border to Lacor Hospital in northern Uganda for treatment; was prescribed some medication and had to travel once a year for treatment.
Juliet is the bread winner for her family; but then her sister developed cancer of the uterus and so Juliet stopped going to the hospital for treatment, since 2005; in order to look after her struggling family.
This week Juliet met Kibugu-Decuir, through another cancer survivor, Christine Rusagare.
“She opened her top and showed me it was too much for me to see such human suffering.”
Rusagara a survivor and also a cancer awareness activist; had to go all the way to India for treatment - surgery and chemotherapy.
The prevalence of breast cancer in Rwanda was studied in a report titled; “Proceedings of the XIIth Butare Medical Conference” released in December last year by the Faculty of Medicine of the National University of Rwanda.
One of the recommendations of the report following the survey results is “the setting up of a policy for cancers screening, diagnosis and treatment in Rwanda should be considered a matter of urgency.”
The report studied cases admitted to the UTH-Butare Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology between January 2001 and July 2007. “The hospital prevalence of breast tumors was 1.97% (71 cases / 3601 in-patients)” says the report.
“Most (56.6%) of them [patients] consulted the physician at a late stage of the disease” says the report.“
I am appealing to everyone to take the torch and move with us in the cancer awareness campaign. I have started a baseline in Uganda, but Rwanda can be a hub supported by every-one,” says Kibugu-Decuir.
A campaign has been initiated to assist Juliet get the necessary medical attention she needs.