Dr Paul Farmer speaks out on Butaro cancer centre

The idea of opening a cancer centre in a rural area conforms to government’s desire to cause healthcare equity in the country, Paul Farmer, one of the founding directors of Partners in Health (PIH), an international non-profit organisation, has said
Dr Paul Farmer
Dr Paul Farmer

The idea of opening a cancer centre in a rural area conforms to government’s desire to cause healthcare equity in the country, Paul Farmer, one of the founding directors of Partners in Health (PIH), an international non-profit organisation, has said

He was speaking to The New Times recently in an interview in which the importance of setting up cancer centre in a rural area like Butaro came into focus.

Critics have often complained that it does not make sense to have a cancer centre in a rural area since cancer cases are mainly in urban areas.

PIH, in partnership with the Ministry Health and other organisations, set up the first ever cancer centre in Butaro in Burera District.

Dr Farmer said most of the cancers common in Africa such as leukemia and cervical cancers are not a lifestyle issue. He said  cancer can attack the poor just as it does the rich.

Dr Farmer noted that this is a common idea even in the US, too, but a false one, adding that it’s like saying poor people don’t get cancer.

‘Vulnerable’ class


Two-thirds of all cases of cancer in the world come from low and middle income countries according to Dr Farmer. This means that cancer largely affects people in rural areas as well.

“No one is taking care of cancer in rural areas and so we decided to do so. Most Rwandans also live in rural areas as Rwanda is still a very rural nation. Most of the cancer patients we’ve seen here in the first several years we were here were from rural areas and had travelled all over looking for treatment. They may end up in the city but most of them aren’t from the city but rural areas,” he said.

He said to address health disparities, PIH’s mission is to go where the patients are and where the pathology is.

Between 2007 and 2011, the cancer registry recorded 3,294 cases, with 53.8 per cent being women. Stomach cancer (9.6 per cent), lymphoma (9.1 per cent), breast cancer (8.9 per cent), skin cancers (7.1 per cent) and cervical cancer (6.3 per cent) were the five most common cancers.

Seven hundred patients (315 men and 385 women) were registered in the Southern Province alone.

Click here for  full interview

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