CONCORD, N.C. – On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Rwanda, Partners in Health, the Jeff Gordon Children's Foundation and the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center will inaugurate the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, which will serve as the first national cancer referral facility in rural Rwanda, Africa.
The Center, located within Butaro Hospital in northern rural Rwanda, is a critical element of Rwanda's ambitious five-year plan to introduce cancer prevention, screening and treatment on a national level. The facility's opening will mark a major milestone as the first center of its kind to bring comprehensive cancer care to rural East Africa.
"Just a few years ago we had no system or financing mechanism to diagnose and treat AIDS in Africa. People said it was too expensive or too complicated. But today nearly 7 million people in developing countries are receiving treatment for HIV. We can do the same with cancer," said Paul Farmer, co-founder Partners in Health and chair of Harvard's Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.
Rwanda has a population of nearly 11 million people -- and not a single Rwandan oncologist. Childhood cancers like acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which has an 80 percent cure rate in the United States, are a virtual death sentence for children in Rwanda.
“This is the first of its kind of any cancer center,” Jeff Gordon told the media during his press conference last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “When they look at the projections in a developing country like East Africa, cancer is on the rise there, and can be very curable and treatable in many cases. It's just not happening. This is a big step, and I can't wait to get there and be a part of this event."
The Cancer Center of Excellence aims to address both existing resource limitations and the growing global cancer burden. The World Health Organization expects 16 million new cancer cases worldwide by 2020, with 70 percent in developing countries like Rwanda. The Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence will provide a full spectrum of cancer care including screening, diagnosis, chemotherapy, surgery, patient follow-up, and palliative care. It will also serve as the first facility to implement standardized cancer training and protocols that align with Rwanda's new national guidelines.