Friday, October 21, 2011

Rwanda has no cancer specialists

The country has no oncologist, even as Rwanda joins the world to mark the breast cancer awareness month. This is was revealed by the Minister of Health, Minister of Health, Dr Agnes Binagwaho, who however hastened to add that the country would hire one before the year ends. An oncologist is a specialised doctor trained in the management of cancer. “Besides that, we are also working on a strategic plan to train more health professionals like we have done for the other infectious diseases,” the minister said.

An official from the Ministry of Health, who preferred anonymity, said that there is an urgent need for the country to have cancer specialists. “There is urgent need for radiotherapy treatment because right now, patients are being referred to Mulago in Uganda or India. There is a very big gap in terms of medical personnel to cater for cancers,” he added. According to the Ministry of Health, breast cancer is on the rise in the country. This is attributed to dietary habits, lifestyle such as smoking, drinking alcohol and physical inactivity. The official noted that the ministry had devised strategies to reduce breast cancer such as the implementation of the cancer control activities, in accordance with the National Cancer Plan that will run from 2012 to 2016.

“There has been primary prevention by screening and auto–palpitation of the breasts as organised by MoH in various communities. Palliative care has also been strengthened whereby oncology courses have been incorporated in the curricula of nurses, lab technicians and doctors,” he said.

The Director of Kanombe Military Hospital, Lt. Col. Dr Ben Karenzi, revealed that his hospital is also working on modalities to address this glaring gap. “Currently there are no medics who are specialised in treating cancer. However, we hope to start offering radiotherapy cancer treatment in the near future and also get cancer medical specialists,” Karenzi said. Genetic factors such as females with a history of cancer are also some of the other attributes.

Environmental factors like exposure to radiation and hormonal factors in girls who start their periods at an early age of 12 years or younger, are also other causes of this cancer. Breast cancer comprises of 22.9 percent of all cancers worldwide among women. In 2008, it caused 458,503 deaths worldwide (13.7 percent of cancer deaths in women). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), cancer is one of the leading causes of death, but that 30 percent of cancer deaths can be prevented with proper medication. According to the Dr. Binagwaho, there are no current statistics on breast cancer. The minister said that her ministry would have to first conduct a survey to ascertain the number of cases. Breast cancer is predominantly prevalent among women, though at a small rate, estimated at one percent; it can be found in men. In order to prevent this form of cancer, it is advisable to encourage routine self and clinical breast examination, eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, and avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Breastfeeding is also another preventive measure against breast cancer. The ministry official pointed out a few challenges such as little public awareness on cancer, generally, and breast cancer specifically being a big challenge. “Treatment is also limited, insufficient drugs and a reagent in the diagnosis .There is also no reliable data on cancer,” Karenzi added.

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