The First Lady, Jeannette Kagame has said that cancer does not discriminate against age, gender, religion, or social status, hence the need for all stakeholders to marshal efforts to fight it.
Mrs. Kagame was speaking yesterday at the official opening of the 11th International Conference on Cancer in Africa held by the African Organisation for Research and Training in Cancer (AORTIC), under the theme: Cancer in Africa: Making Strides, Creating Solutions.
The four-day conference has brought together a broad range of cancer professionals: medical oncologists, specialists, academics, clinicians, scientists, policymakers, and public health professionals, among others, with an aim to reduce the impact of cancer in Africa.
Addressing the participants, the First Lady highlighted the threat that cancer poses depicted by the 2015 World Health Organisation (WHO) report which stated that cancer accounted for 8.8 million deaths globally, 70 percent of which occurring in low and middle income countries, many of which are in Africa.
"This fight against cancer also forces us to take an honest look on what is still needed," she said.
"Are we doing everything we can to promote scientific research on our continent? Are we creating the structures needed to encourage the rise of new and young African scientists who will be drawn to this specific field? Are we effectively building capacity in our countries to help our scientists become solution driven in the case of key health challenges? Are we creating the right incentives, or environment, that encourage research, that assess all ways through which we can prevent cancer?" she challenged the experts.
Adding that Africa accounts for more than 60 per cent of new cancer cases, the First Lady urged that it becomes more than an urgency but rather a question of survival to find solutions to effectively prevent and treat the disease.
"In Rwanda, like many other nations whose populations have access to cancer screenings, incidences of cancer diagnoses are becoming known. Men are diagnosed with prostate cancer, children with leukemia and kidney cancer. While women battle breast and cervical cancer," she said.
Reminding the stakeholders that a third of cancer cases can be prevented according to research, she called for efforts from concerned global citizens to put in place more effective and sustainable systems of prevention.
Among others, she called for the increase and diversity of partnerships and collaborations within different sectors, institutions and organisations, advocacy and mobilising public-private support for the cause, as well as promotion of a well-trained, skilled and dedicated workforce.
Sharing an example of Rwandan's efforts of providing HPV vaccines to young girls, a campaign that gained 95 percent coverage, Mrs. Kagame said that it is an example of the kind of success that can be achieved when all stakeholders respond to the call to come together to deliver sustainable solutions to a global public health concern.
"AORTIC has already shown progress towards prioritizing oncology training for health workers and research on cancer prevalence both of which are well stipulated in the mandate of the organization. It is upon us to devise strategies to capitalize on the progress made, by incorporating it within our different existing structure," she said.
In a presentation done yesterday, Lynette Denny, the Director of South Africa's Medical Research Council Gynecological Cancer Research Centre said that cancer care in developing countries is generally abysmal and not recognized as a public health problem.
She said that health systems in poor countries are too weak to support the multi basic care linked with cancer with its complexity and expense.
Minister of Health, Dr. Diane Gashumba, expressed commitment towards fighting cancer.
"As a country, as a region, as a global community, we are committed to improving cancer care in Africa and we hope to continue to build this important network and secure additional partnerships by the end of this conference," she said.