The Elekta Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing cancer care access in underserved communities worldwide, in collaboration with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health and other partners, has been at the forefront of combating cervical and breast cancers, the leading causes of mortality in vulnerable regions.
Transitioning from Disease-Centered Care to Women-Centered Care, pioneering efficient dual screenings for both cancers during outreach programs, thus reducing costs and increasing efficacy. The Kayonza Project aims to eliminate cervical and breast cancer through a scalable and sustainable model. The project, initiated in September 2023, follows the successful Gicumbi project and serves as a testament to Elekta Foundation’s commitment to progress.
The President of the Elekta Foundation, Lacy Hubbard, noted that building upon the achievements of the FAST model, their foundation aims to elevate our HPV testing capacity from 800 to 1000, thereby fortifying the quality of cervical cancer screening and prevention.
She said, “In Rwanda, approximately 1.5 million women are eligible for cervical cancer screening, the most important preventative measure for this disease. We are ready to accelerate the pace of screening and reach the WHO recommendation of 70% of the eligible women by 2030. With your support, we can achieve our goal and save lives.”
Mrs. Cecilia Wikström, Chairman of Elekta Foundation, highlighted their work commenced with a project aimed at eliminating cervical cancer in Rwanda. The objective was to create a scalable and sustainable model that also could be adopted and transferred to other sub-Saharan countries and regions in the world.
She said, “No matter who we are or where we live. Approximately 70 percent of deaths from cancer occur in low- and middle-income countries and the survival rates show great discrepancies. Empowering women and adolescent girls to get screened for cancer and have access to health services, increasing awareness of cancer in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs): most international AID programs in Africa are dedicated to infectious diseases (HIV, Malaria or Tuberculosis).”
Mrs. Cecilia continued this comprehensive approach to cervical cancer prevention, detection, and treatment constitutes an End-to-End model. Built on raising awareness, effective collaboration, knowledge and training, and the integration of new technologies, including digital solutions, it significantly contributes to the country’s cervical cancer elimination agenda.
She said, “We are ready to intensify work in Rwanda but also improve access to cancer in other underserved countries. When the scientific studies are finished, we are ready to spread the results. We look forward to continuing the work in the Kayonza district and move on working with women centered care in other districts and regions.”
Director of the Cancer Prevention and Treatment Unit in Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC), Mr. Marc HAGENIMANA, encouraged women to check for early cervical and breast cancer, even if they don’t feel any symptoms, because when these cancers start, you don’t have any symptoms, and if these cancers are treated early, they can be cured.
He said, “Last year we examined more than 5000 people in Rwanda with different types of cancer, and among those cancers we found cervical and breast cancers, which are the most common in Rwanda. We received about 610 patients with breast cancer, and for cervical cancer, we received about 605 patients.”
“Those we have seen do not mean that they are the only patients who are sick, but those patients who have reached the hospital and are being treated—these are few according to the WHO estimate that we should have seen 1237, which says that about a half may have cancer but they don’t know it because they have not been diagnosed,” he added.
Vestine TUYISENGE, one of the Kayonza residents helped by this project, revealed the benefits of cervical and breast cancer screening.
She said, “I decided to get tested because I saw how bad it was on my mother, who died of cervical cancer. There is another person I know who was sick of breast cancer and ended up dead in the hospital, so that’s why I encourage others to come and get tested to know their status.”
In Rwanda, Cervical cancer is the 2nd leading cancer. Following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Elekta Foundation and the Ministry of Health in Rwanda in 2022, collaborative efforts were initiated with partners in Sweden, the US, and Rwanda to develop a model for cervical cancer prevention and treatment. The design of the FAST model occurred concurrently with its testing, continuous evaluation, and ongoing improvements in projects in the Gicumbi district. Under the leadership and coordination of Rwanda Biomedical Centre, the implementing agency of Rwanda Ministry of Health, significant results were achieved. Some of these results include:
An awareness campaign was organized by the local partner, Society for Family Health (SFH) Community. Over 2,400 community health workers were trained, leading to an extensive mobilization of women who actively participated in self-sample testing. In just four months, more than 20,000 women underwent screening for cervical cancer.
Nurses and midwives, empowered through training, conducted follow-ups for HPV-positive women. Their efforts resulted in the treatment of over 500 women with precancerous lesions, preventing the further development of cervical cancer.
Utilizing a self-sampling HPV test with high throughput, the screening process now accommodates over 800 women. Additionally, a state-of-the-art HPV lab was established at the district hospital. The work has also initiated two scientific studies. One investigates how the introduction of a colposcopy device improve visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) quality, while the other evaluates the efficacy of thermal ablation in preventing precancerous lesions.