The first lady said this during a conference, Tuesday, that brought together the Ministry of Health, UNITAID and Clinton Health Access Initiative that aimed at identifying solutions to prevent and eradicate cervical cancer.
The meeting brought together First Ladies of Rwanda, Niger, Tchad, Botswana and Niger and was part of the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA) that started on December 2nd in Kigali.
Mrs. Kagame praised a new programme set to commence in January next year that will provide cervical cancer prevention options to women that have not had a chance to get vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus when they were younger.
The new programme will complement the existing efforts that have been focusing on getting young girls (mainly 12-year-old) vaccinated against cervical cancer and screening services and treatment for older women.
The new project will give mass preventive treatment to women, in a targeted age group of 30-49, mainly in the form of treatment of precancerous lesions (early cancer signs) to prevent them from developing into invasive cancer.
“This highly preventable disease, which touches on a sensitive aspect of women’s health, is one that deserves more attention, as it has been the subject of misguided views that turned out to be detrimental to the early detection, and prevention,” she said.
According to Dr. François Uwinkindi, the Director of Cancer Programme at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, this kind of treatment is one of the two ways used in cervical cancer prevention.
“In cervical cancer prevention there are two ways: there is primary prevention which is avoiding contact with the Human Papilloma Virus. Vaccination is one of the practices done in primary prevention, as well as avoiding sexual activity especially for young girls who are under 18 years,” he said.
The other preventive way, he said, is treating precancerous lesions.
“This is when you are screened for cervical cancer and you are found with precancerous lesions, and you are given treatment so that it will not develop into invasive cancer,” he explained.
The new project is a two and a half year partnership between the Ministry of Health, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the International Drug Purchase Facility (UNITAID).
It will use new technologies to improve access to the screening of cervical cancer.
It will be rolled out in five districts of the country for the beginning - as a pilot project.
Under the project, medical facilities will receive mobile testing and treatment equipment as well as training for local care providers.
Up to 72,000 women are expected to be screened for cervical cancer across the five districts of; Gatsibo, Nyamasheke, Musanze, Huye and Nyarugenge, with plans to scale it up to other parts of the country.
Cervical cancer is the top fourth disease affecting women globally, contributing to 6.6 percent of all cancers in women. As it is the case with many other diseases, cervical cancer disproportionately affects the poorest populations.
Rwanda is among high burden cervical cancer countries with an incident rate of 31.9 per 100,000 women and a mortality rate of 24.1 for every 100,000 as per last year.
Last year, there were an estimated 18.1 million new cancer cases and 9.5 million cancer deaths were estimated worldwide.