Rwanda: MoH has plans to train more local oncologists, say officials

Thirteen-year-old Kachonga Dieu Merci recovered from Hodgkin’s lymphoma at Butaro Hospital in Rwanda, where he's seen by Dr. Alexis Manirakiza.

There is need to invest more in training of medical staff specifically with a view to increasing the number of oncologists to reduce the number of foreign medical expatriates, officials have said.

Oncologists are medical personnel who specialise in treating cancer.

The officials were speaking last week during the visit by 50 delegates from Partners in Health and Harvard Global Health Catalyst (GHC) to Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, and the Cancer Centre at Butaro Hospital in Burera District.

Tharcisse Mpunga, the director of Butaro Hospital, which hosts a cancer treatment centre, told The New Times that currently, there is no single Rwandan specialist at the centre and they have to hire from abroad.

“The centre receives 1,000 cancer patients every year and by 2016 we had received more than 5,700 patients. We need to train local doctors to specialise in treating cancer instead of only relying on foreigners,” he said.

“We have specialists from Mexico, Tanzania, Australia and no Rwandan specialist works here except those who studied internal medicine and general practitioners,” he said.

The Ministry of Health says there are still challenges in treating cancer such as limited access to infrastructure, treatment cost and human resources (specialists).

These, according to the ministry officials, will need to be addressed so as to reduce cancer mortality by 10 per cent by 2021 a target set by government and that there are strategies in place to address them.

According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre, there are currently less than 10 oncologists in the country.

“Other challenges include having no radiotherapy services as we have been referring patients to the region, including in Kenya,” Mpuga said.

A radiotherapy machine will soon be set up at Rwanda Military Hospital, Kanombe, and it will be functional by early next year and, according to Mpunga, Butaro centre will have its own within less than three years.

Dr Patrick Ndimubanzi, the state minister for public and primary healthcare, said several efforts are being put in training Rwandan oncologists where many are already undertaking their studies in different countries.

“Two Rwandans have been sent to Ghana to study medical physics so as to run radiotherapy machines in Rwanda while others are studying in Tanzania and Kenya,” he said.

Last week, the ministry entered an agreement with Harvard Medical School, the graduate medical school of the prestigious Harvard University in the US, for the latter to train Rwandan oncologists.

Ndimubanzi said the Ministry of Health has undertaken key initiatives to fight cancer and Non-communicable diseases (NDCs), including decentralisation of cancer and NCDs services, running massive awareness campaigns on a healthy lifestyle that includes routine medical checkups, exercising and a balanced diet while high risk groups have been given free Hepatitis B vaccination to avoid any possibilities of developing liver cancer.

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