Rwanda, particularly over the past decade, has made significant strides forward in improving health and well-being for the country. The health sector has a core goal of ensuring preventative, curative and supportive care for all of the population. According to the WHO, cancer is one of the leading causes of death in low and middle-income countries, leading to death in 70% of its victims in these regions. The International Agency for Research on Cancer recorded that there were 10,704 new cases of cancer in 2018 alone, with 7662 deaths.
On World Cancer Day in 2020, President Paul Kagame of Rwanda inaugurated a new, updated Cancer Centre at Rwanda Military Hospital in Kanombe. This was a landmark milestone in Rwanda’s continuing journey to decrease disease burden through prevention, early detection and comprehensive treatment. The Rwanda Cancer Centre (RCC) was constructed by UTEC, a French company, and funded by the Government of Rwanda, the Global Fund and the CDC. It has been operational since March 2019, and was officially launched in 2020. The launch of the RCC coincided with the official launch of the National Cancer Control Plan 2020-24, the National Cancer Registry and National Cancer Management guidelines.
What does the RCC offer?
At the moment the RCC offers radiotherapy and the kind of chemotherapy that works alongside radiotherapy, but there are plans to expand the services provided to eventually become a full-service cancer centre. Other hospitals and centres such as the Butaro Cancer Centre handle initial diagnosis before referring patients on to the RCC.
How many people has the centre treated?
So far the centre has treated 350 patients, 57% of which have been covered by Mutuelle de Santé. Mutuelle de Santé is a community-based health insurance, in which contributions per person are paid annually to cover potential health treatments. A wealth categorisation programme (based on Ubudehe; a longstanding Rwandan practice of collective action and mutual support) assesses socioeconomic status to create a tiered payment system, in which the two poorest categories receive government subsidies to cover the health insurance costs.
What did patients have to do before the RCC?
Prior to the opening of the RCC, patients who would benefit from radiotherapy treatment would have to pay for the expense of going abroad where it was offered. Only around 10% of patients prescribed this treatment could afford to do so.
What equipment does the RCC have?
This centre aims to provide radiotherapy to patients in the region and in Rwanda more widely. The centre is equipped with two of the latest model-type linear accelerators so they can offer Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT), an advanced level of care, to patients. There is also a CT scanner, to aid in treatment planning. As 50-60% of cancer patients in Rwanda require radiotherapy as part of their treatment, the RCC provides an invaluable service in alleviating the increasing cancer burden in Rwanda.