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Rwanda military to open Shs11bn regional cancer centre in January

The radiotherapy centre is equipped with two Linear Accelerators from Elekta, and will be offering advanced treatment techniques with VMAT (Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy) to all clients.

KIGALI | The Rwanda military will launch a Shs11 billion regional cancer centre expected to ease treatment of the burden-some disease, military doctors in the central African country said Friday.

Lt Col Dr Pacifique Mugenzi, the only radiation oncologist in Rwanda, said the new cancer centre  will be hosted at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, in eastern Rwanda and that it will incorporate the “latest oncology technology” to deliver a world-class  specialised cancer care services, according to The New Times newspaper.

“So far we are done with the construction and equipping the facility, I have no doubt by early January 2019 it will be operational. Today if I receive a patient I can treat him or her,” Col Dr Mugenzi said in a statement.

Sendo Cleaners

Rwanda Military Hospital is run by the defence forces and has one of the best qualified medical personnel in Rwanda. The military doctors in the country are often deployed at various facilities, especially the referral hospitals, to beef up their civilian counterparts.

The military hospital, though, it military just in name and the deployment of military doctors as it attends to people of all walks of life.

Dr Mugenzi said the new cancer facility will have the capacity to receive 80 patients daily. The patients and their families will be provided with more choices when planning their care, he added.

“This centre is expected to reduce reliance on international centres and it’s our firm confidence that Rwandans should have access to high cancer care as close to their homes as possible,” Mugenzi said.

Over the years, Rwandans have had to rely on Butaro Cancer Centre in the southern region of the country. Although the centre is moderately equipped, it is often weighed down by patients, some travelling from as far as eastern DR Congo.

A few who can afford or lucky ones have always had to travel across borders or abroad for services that will be available in Rwanda for the first time. But with the new cancer centre, Rwanda’s quest to boost medical tourism will receive the much needed impetus as the facility is being billed as one that will see patients from across the region seek alternative services in Rwanda.

“So far, the few patients who were able to get radiotherapy had to travel mainly to Uganda, Kenya or India, and the cost was covered either privately or through different funding bodies,” said Mugenzi, who completed his residency in clinical oncology in South Africa.

“The current radiotherapy centre, the first of its kind in the country, is expected to considerably improve the management of our cancer patients. It is well established that it is an important therapeutic modality, required in 50% to 60% of patients during the course of treatment, whether alone or combined with surgery and or chemotherapy.”

Equipped

Dr Mugenzi, who has been at the forefront of the setting of the facility and will be its director-general, said the radiotherapy centre is equipped with two Linear Accelerators from Elekta, and will be offering advanced treatment techniques with VMAT (Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy) to all clients.

The facility is a product of a $3 million grant from a US government initiative that helped Dr Mugenzi fulfill his dream of opening a specialised cancer centre in his country during his study abroad.

Soldiers from the US 403rd Civil Affairs (CA) Battalion, assigned to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), helped facilitate the opening of the first Radiation Oncology Center in Rwanda.

“This is an extremely exciting time for medicine in Rwanda — for the delivery of cancer care,” said US Army Lt Col Delnora Erickson, a radiation oncologist with the 403rd CA Battalion.

Mugenzi said the centre will provide advanced radiation therapy treatments. Radiation therapy services will be available to those with local insurance cover, including the country’s universal insurance scheme locally known as Mutuelle de Santé.

“It will provide comprehensive treatment to cancer patients. This centre is a great opportunity, it will be a regional centre that will serve people around the region. There are three well-known treatment options for cancer; chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy, so radiotherapy has been the unavailable option,” he said.

The radiotherapy centre comes to supplement the existing chemotherapy facility available in Butaro Cancer Centre.

The distribution of cancer in Rwanda is similar to that in other countries in sub-Saharan Africa, according to studies. The most frequent cancers are those associated with a possible infectious disease like HIV, according to a study done by the Cancer Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University.

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed among women in Rwanda and is a significant contributor to overall cancer-associated deaths for women in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the World Health Organisation.

In a country with over 11 million people, national screening and treatment programmes are helpful; however, cervical cancer prevention is also integral in reducing cancer-associated deaths for women in Rwanda, added Erickson.

Cervical cancer moved from the 10th leading cause of death among women in 2011 to the seventh in 2017, said Rwanda Defence Forces’ Col Eugene Ngoga, clinical director of the military hospital.

“One of the biggest accomplishments that I have seen in cancer care is the rollout of the human papillomavirus vaccine in Rwanda,” said Erickson while speaking at a charity event for Rotary International during her visit. “The rates of immunization of HPV are well over 95 percent in this country.”

Rwanda plans to make the facility a regional medical hub, by conducting medical specialty clinics in transplant surgery, cardiology, oncology, orthopaedics, nephrology, neurosurgery, and paediatric cardiology.

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