With the rise in cervical cancer, Rwanda has opted to confront the rising numbers head on. It’s simple, Rwanda has 2.72 million women who are at risk of developing cervical cancer. The problem is compounded by the HIV/AIDS as being HIV positive increases the risk of developing cervical cancer by at least 50%.
Rwanda has responded on two fronts, prevention and screening and treatment.
A little over two years ago, Rwanda’s Ministry of Health launched a comprehensive national cervical cancer prevention program that includes human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination for girls and HPV testing for women.
Through a donation of the HPV Vaccine, GARDASIL® from Merck, all girls in Primary 6 (ages 11 and 12 years) were vaccinated starting April 2011. Out-of-school girls were targeted through community health workers. In 2012, the campaign targeted secondary school girls.
After two years, the programme has registered remarkable achievements. Minister of Health Dr. Agnes Binagwaho says that in 2011-2012, Rwanda vaccinated 227,246 girls with all three doses of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. “Among eligible girls, three-dose coverage rates of 93.2% and 96.6% were achieved in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In 2013, so far the total children vaccinated with first dose and second doses is 136,336 which is 99.3%.”
Beyond protecting girls, Rwanda is increasing its capacity to screen and treat cervical cancer. “The country has also initiated nationwide screening and treatment programmes that are based on visual inspection of the cervix with acetic acid and various advanced treatment options,” said Minister Binagwaho.
Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to offer a comprehensive prevention program for cervical cancer that incorporates both vaccinations against four types of HPV for appropriate girls and modern molecular diagnostic screening for women.
Cervical cancer, which is caused by certain types of HPV, is ranked by the World Health Organization as the leading cause of cancer death among women in Rwanda. The HPV vaccine significantly reduces the risk of cervical cancer.