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Rwanda Explores Nuclear Medicine Potential To Improve Cancer Treatment

by Daniel Sabiiti
12:20 am

Some of the stakeholders in Rwanda’s health sector

Stakeholders in Rwanda’s health sector have agreed on building synergies to develop Rwanda’s nuclear medicine potential as a way of enhancing diagnosis, treatment, and overall healthcare delivery in Rwanda.

The agreement was reached this June 13, 2024 during a Workshop on Nuclear Medicine Prospects in Rwanda, organized by Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB).

The workshop aimed to explore the status and prospects of nuclear medicine in Rwanda; opportunities presented by nuclear technologies; stakeholder engagement; developing a sustainable infrastructure for nuclear medicine in Rwanda.

Though nuclear technology is a new venture in Rwanda, focusing on health and energy, stakeholders were presented to the potential that Rwanda has already started developing in this sector.

These include a plan to establish the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology (CNST) in Rwanda which is expected to be established in Gashora sector, Bugesera district, at a cost of between $800m to $1billion, according to Dr. Fidele Ndahayo, the CEO of RAEB.

Dr. Fidele Ndahayo

“A technical and physical feasibility study for the establishment of the CNST is underway and it will be an implementation guide on this project. This study is expected to be completed by the end of August 2024,” Ndahayo said.

The CNST will have three other centers within, which include: the center for nuclear medicine, research reactor and lab complex, and a multipurpose irradiation center (MIC).

Dr. Joram Ndayishimye, the Nuclear Science and Applications Officer at RAEB said that Rwanda’s nuclear sector will be focusing on health (nuclear medicine), and the first step, however other areas such as education and agriculture will be in focus as they too present equal opportunities especially with the research and development component at the planned CNST.

Ndayishimye revealed that there is a need for human capital (skilled labor) and the government is investing heavily in developing this capacity which is expected to grow in the next ten year or so.

Rwanda already has nuclear energy development partnership agreements with Russia and Hungary and sets of Rwanda nuclear engineers have undergone training while others are yet to be sent for further training in both countries.

Focusing on the health sector, Rwanda will need at least $13.3m to establish and equip the Center for nuclear medicine, but also develop synergy especially in infrastructure, waste management policies and research development according to Alexis Ruhinda, a nuclear technology engineer.

Ndayishimye said that there are already other parties like King Faisal Hospital who have plans to develop a nuclear medicine department to improve their service, thus a need to collectively synergy  and on-board all existing projects to have a unified effort in developing the healthcare services especially cancer treatment.

Dr. Joram Ndayishimye making a presentation to other stakeholders

Health facilities such as King Faisal Hospital (KFH) are planning to venture into state- of-the- art nuclear medicine using a cyclotron radiopharmaceutical based unit, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT/CT) and Positron emission tomography–computed tomography (PET/CT) scanners as a result of evidence of increased cases of cancer (especially new cases) in the country.

For instance, Theoneste Maniragaba, the Director of Cancer diseases at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) said that cancer cases have increased on high level with 5400 cases in 2023 which are mainly presented at the diagnostic level where tools like Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and CT scans are used and it can be hard to check for the spread without nuclear technology- especially PET/ CT.

The need to properly treat cancer as the case burden increases was affirmed by Dr. Nicaise Nsabimana, a Senior Oncologist at Butaro Level Two Teaching Hospital who showed the numbers of cases per month and possibility of missing out of treating the cases properly as a result of lack of nuclear medicine,

For example, in this year alone, from May 2024, Butaro- a cancer specialized hospital received 707 cases (73 new cases), April had 737 cases (82 new), March 634 cases (93 new), February 693 (68 new) and January had 725 cases (94 new).

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