The newly inaugurated Rwanda Cancer Centre (RCC) will save the country millions of money which were being spent on treating cancer patients abroad.
The observation was made by President Paul Kagame while presiding over the official opening of the cancer treatment centre which is located at Rwanda Military Hospital (RMH) in Kanombe on Tuesday.
The Head of State described the radiotherapy facility as ‘a landmark in medical services in Rwanda’. It is the first and only radiotherapy centre in Rwanda and one of the most advanced in the Eastern Africa region.
“The Rwanda Cancer Centre is already saving lives with several hundred patients having been treated. We have been spending large sums of money to send a few patients abroad each year for cancer treatment,” President Kagame said.
“We don’t have a lot of money in the first place, but then large sums of money were being spent treating a few patients but we have many patients to treat. We need to take that into account and that is really the importance of the centre we have here and what we see in the near future as the extension of it to accommodate many other things,” he added.
Thanks to the centre, President Kagame said many more Rwandans will be able to get the care they need with their families close by.
He added that with time, the Rwanda Cancer Centre will grow to encompass the full range of diagnostic and treatment services, on both an in-patient and out-patient basis, adding that even though there is a lot of work to do, the progress is commendable.
“Definitely we still have a lot of work to do, but this is the kind of progress we are pursuing in our health care system in general. Prevention is just as important as cure. There are many things that are being done,” the Head of State said.
Cancer threat growing
The launch of the centre coincided with World Cancer Day which is celebrated on February 4 annually. The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for the need to step up cancer services in low and middle-income countries.
WHO warns that, if current trends continue, the world will see a 60% increase in cancer cases over the next two decades. The greatest increase (an estimated 81%) in new cases will occur in low- and middle-income countries, where survival rates are currently lowest.
On his part, President Kagame said that beyond what Doctors and experts can do, there is a lot more people can do to minimize the risk of cancer.
“We learn that eating a healthy diet, engaging in sports, and not smoking, are habits that significantly reduce the risk of developing cancer,”
“We have already started on a number of things and we still have to do more and have more people benefit. Like the car free day, the exercises that go on at that time, and the care given to people. The numbers are still growing and the more people we have, the better for them and for the whole country,” President Kagame said.
President Kagame commended individuals and institutions involved in the establishment of the centre including Global Fund, and PEPFAR, through the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Really for me the reason to come here was to associate myself with all of you who have made the realization of this Cancer Centre possible, and also to reiterate that we are doing everything possible within our means,”
“We hope in the near future we will have the extension of the centre which will see a hospital built here. Things are getting better and we are likely to start building the hospital soon,” he said.
President Kagame said that the government is doing everything possible to improve the facilities and services at the centre, pointing out that it is not going to be there in isolation.
“It will be here with other centres and a hospital that are going to be developed,” he said, revealing that he was tasked to lead efforts for health financing for the African Union.
“At least before I fulfil my duties for Africa I have to fulfil my duty for Rwanda and I wanted to start from here and then we continue the discussion in other places as well and look for synergies,” he said.
He called for the need for African countries to work together towards improving access to health services, pointing out that most of these things are doable.
“We just need to focus and utilize well the limited resources we have but also prioritizing. Health is a priority among priorities as far as I know and think. Therefore we want to act like that,” he said.
He challenged the Health Minister and other decision makers in the sector to work towards establishing infrastructure and facilities that meet global standards as it is done elsewhere.
“Wherever I go, I see a bit of things that need to be put right. A hospital is a hospital, it is a unique place that has its uniqueness whether it is construction, furniture, and so on. Sometimes you go to a hospital and you don’t know whether it is a hospital. Let me not say too much about that,”
“I think we can learn and just do things the way they should be done. Put the right things, in the right order, in the right place. I think we need to do that as fast as we can,” President Kagame noted.
According to the Minister of Health, the Radiotherapy centre is the most advanced of its kind in the Eastern African region and it will provide comprehensive cancer treatment and supportive care (palliative care) for patients with late stage diagnosis.
The Minister of Health Dr. Diane Gashumba said that prior to having the Rwanda Cancer Centre, over $1m was being spent on international transfers for radiotherapy treatment.
Ministry of Health said that since the centre started offering services in March 2019, over 350 patients have been treated and 57 % of the treated patients were covered by the Community Based Health Insurance “Mutuelle de Santé”.
Currently the centre treats 50 patients daily but it has the capacity to treat 80 patients per day and up to 150 patients per day with the utilization of two Radiotherapy machines.
“Today is a special day we welcome the new Radiotherapy cancer centre that will complement already existing chemotherapy cancer services in Rwanda in different hospitals including King Faisal Hospital, Butaro and CHUB,”
“We believe that this centre will go a long way in supporting already existing services in with prevention, diagnosis and treatment services for cancers related to HCV and HPV in and cancers that affect women such as cervical and ovarian cancer,” Minister Gashumba said.
She said that Rwanda is the first country globally to have achieved a 93% vaccination rate among girls against Cervical Cancer.