The First Lady made the remarks on Tuesday, November 17, 2020, in a message issued at the Virtual Launch of the Global Strategy to Accelerate the Elimination of Cervical Cancer.
The program was approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) 2020, which is co-chaired by 194 countries. It will focus on three areas including prevention, testing, and treatment where it is expected to reduce the risk of new infections by 40% and five million deaths by 2050.
The event was also attended by Tsepo Motsepe, First Lady of South Africa, Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, and his deputy Zsuzsanna Jakab among other dignitaries.
Mrs. Kagame pointed out that women in low and middle-income economies are still succumbing to cervical cancer while the world has all it takes to stop it. It is a concern which WHO Director-General also mentioned two years ago, and not much has been done to reverse the trend so far.
“Up to 93% of cervical cancers are preventable, but today, cervical cancer is the second largest killer of women in low and middle-income countries after breast cancer. This is unacceptable when taking into account the available technology, policies, and cost-effective measures for early diagnosis and treatment,” the First Lady said.
This happens at a time when the HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, has proven to be highly effective if administered before a girl or woman is exposed to the virus but, according to the First Lady, Rwanda is registering a success story since 2011 when the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in Rwanda.
She said the country implemented the WHO recommendations on screening, treating and vaccinating targeted population groups, and results were commendable, thanks to “the effort between leaders and community health workers at a national and grassroots level.”
“Today, the vaccine is included in the national immunization regimen for children,” the First Lady said.
The First Lady acknowledged the awareness campaigns that in most cases targeted women and girls, and the attention the media dedicated to this cause.
However, Mrs. Kagame said that there are still challenges ahead “that warrant our urgent attention: the critical role and responsibility of men in reducing the incidence of cervical cancer.”
The challenge lies in the fact that HPV is the most common viral infection transmitted through sexual intercourse, yet HPV-related cancers are not as common in men as it is in women who are likely to develop cervical cancer. In this perspective, men tend to behave as if the cancer is a battle that women just, should fight.
“But to this day, there is limited knowledge of HPV among men, which comes with the risk of undermining the progress made so far. This is especially true of cultural settings where women are still striving for their full sexual and reproductive rights,” the First Lady said.
This brought her to a call to men to be active in the prevention of cervical cancer, first of all through understanding their role in protecting their female partners, the most victims.
This also comes with the responsibility “to ensure that at a young age, boys just like young girls are systematically vaccinated. Until then, the best prevention to protect women against this cancer will continue to be the use of condoms.”
WHO estimates that the death toll from cervical cancer has risen from 570,000 in 2018 to 700,000 by 2030, while the death toll has risen from 311,000 to 400,000.
Cervical cancer is ranked second in Africa in terms of the prevalence of women and the number of deaths, with Rwanda, ranked first. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) accounts for 99.7% of all cases of cancer.
After contracting the HPV Virus, bleeding in non-menstruation periods and in the menopause period are some of the symptoms of cervical cancer.
WHO estimates that cervical cancer in Rwanda is 31.9 per 10,000 women, while its mortality rate is 24.1 per 10,000 women, which means 921 deaths.
According to the Ministry of Health, in 2018 new cases of cervical cancer were detected in 362. The disease is more prevalent in women over the age of 45 years.