In 1986 Philippa Decuir’s sister who living in Democratic Republic of Congo suffered from breast cancer and despite efforts of getting her treatment abroad she didn’t survive the non-communicable disease.
“I tried to fly my sister to a London hospital for treatment but it was too late. She died few days after arriving. You can imagine the expenses incurred in the process of transporting the body back home to Africa,” Decuir narrated her life changing story.
Almost 24 ago Decuir also suffered from the same disease while she was living in the USA but managed to survive as a result of getting treatment surviving the cancers due to available health services.
Decuir’s sister is just one of the estimate 70% of all cancer deaths occur in low and middle in-come countries where resources for prevention, diagnosis and treatment are limited or nonexistent, according to World Health Organization (WHO).
From this experience of surviving cancer, and losing a sister due to limited access to specialized cancer health treatment Decuir founded an organization in 2009 aimed at reducing such deaths especially for breast cancer.
The Rwandan based cancer campaign organization- Breast Cancer Initiative East Africa (BCIEA), has set a target of raising a fund of Rwf100million to facilitate access to cancer health care for all Rwandans.
“All we are asking is a donation of Rwf1000. This may sound as little as one dollar, but it can save a breast cancer patient especially women, who are vulnerable and need to get access to existing health services,” Decuir said.
So far over 15,000 Rwandan women, men and youth have been impacted on with basic knowledge about breast cancer: risk factors and how to reduce their risk, signs and symptoms, importance of early detection and self-awareness.
The organization has also helped 325 patients get medical assistance from existing cancer facilities and services in Rwanda, located in Butaro hospital, CHUK, Kanombe Miltary Hospital, and King Faisal Hospital but asking for government to do more.
“We (Rwandans) are lucky President Kagame has made a political commitment to improve cancer treatment. This should be a good sign that cancer patients will be able to get timely screening, treatment, drugs- which are still limited though Rwanda is making strides,” Decuir said.
Charlotte Mukagatsinzi, a teacher at TTC Matimba, Nyagatare district is a breast cancer survivor whose cancer was treated in India in 2015 with the help of contribution from BCIEA and friends.
Mukagatsinzi says her breast cancer was not detected earlier, and this has resulted to into lung cancer.
“This has affected my health and physically I tend to be weak but at least am assured of treatment at Butaro hospital, though maintaining good feeding on cancer drugs is a major challenge” Mukagatsinzi said.
During the 73rd United Nations General Assembly, last month, President Kagame and First lady Jeannette Kagame spoke at a Breast and Cervical cancer event organised by the Organisation of African First Ladies Against HIV/AIDS (OAFLA), stressing the commitment to the cause.
President Kagame tasked OAFLA to come up with a roadmap for advocacy which will add “enormous value” to the efforts geared towards fighting against breast and cervical cancer.
“Africa cannot achieve socio-economic transformation when our people are not in good health. Non-communicable diseases, especially cancer are a growing public health threat on our continent exacerbated by weak health systems that we must keep strengthening.” Kagame said
Currently estimated 14.1 million cases of cancer diagnosed around the world and 8.2 million cancer deaths
In Rwanda cancer prevalence and mortality has increased according to International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).statistics which in 2016 estimated at 14,227, with an annual mortality rate of 6,444.
This figure has in 2018, risen to at least 17,997 with an annual mortality of 7,662.
As part of October month dedicated internationally to preventing cancer, Rwanda’s ministry of Health mid-October plans to launch a campaign aimed at improving cancer treatment testing and screening among others.
In this month, hundreds of Rwandans will on 20th October also hold the 5th annual walk in Kigali city to create awareness against breast cancer commonly known as Ulinzi- a Swahili word that means: protect, guard, save.