The government will roll out cervical cancer screening and treatment, targetting about 1.5 million women aged between 30 and 49.
The rollout of the free screenings of Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Visual Inspection of the Cervix with acetic acid (VIA) and treat those found with cancer, will be offered in all public hospitals and health centres across the country starting with Musanze District on June 6.
The country last year registered 1,304 cases of cervical cancer and 921 deaths of women in this age group, who are classified as high-risk for the disease.
Rwanda Today has learnt that the country has recorded 93 per cent cervical cancer vaccination coverage among girls aged 12. The remaining girls are expected to be vaccinated during the two-year project that started in August last year.
The government last year provided cervical cancer screenings and vaccination to about 72,000 women in the same age bracket. This was carried out in 77 public health centres and seven hospitals in Gatsibo, Nyamasheke, Musanze, Huye and Nyarugenge districts.
Cervical cancer is the second most common cancer in women and the biggest cause of cancer related deaths. Human Papillomavirus is the primary cause of 99.7 per cent of all cervical cancer cases.
According to a report by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and the World Health Organisation, in 2008 Rwanda recorded 34.5 per cent cases and 25.4 per cent deaths attributable to cervical cancer per 100,000 citizens.
The report added that at the time, cases of cervical cancer among women in the country appear to be higher than the combined those of breast, liver and stomach cancers.
According to an official from the Ministry of Health, despite the government's efforts to fight the virus, the country is ranked high in the region for its incidence rate of 31.9 per 100,000 women and a mortality rate of 24.1.
Dr Francois Uwinkindi, director of a noncommunicable diseases unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, said cervical cancer is the most frequent cancer in Rwanda.
“Majority women go for cancer screening and treatment in late stages of the condition, we decided each year to enrol HPV screening in all parts of the country ensuring treating those found with cancer and developing symptoms of the virus,” said Dr Uwinkindi.
He said all women are at risk, and deaths occur 15 to 25 years after infection. In the absence of intervention, there will be at a consistent increase in new cervical cancer cases every year, hence making it hard to eliminate.
Dr Uwinkindi said women should be screened at least once every five years. Those who are HIV-positive should be screened every year because they are more likely to have persistent HPV infection than those who are HIV-negative.
He said screening allows for cervical cancer to be detected early when it is still highly treatable. Women should be screened for cervical cancer every five years.