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Rwandan Oncologists in New Drive to Fight Stigma, Myths About Cancer

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Monday, January 10th, 2022
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Local oncologists have launched a writing contest, where survivors and other people who have cancer-related stories can share their experiences, in an initiative aimed at fighting stigma and myths about the disease in the country.

The oncologists are organised under the Rwanda Cancer Relief (RCR), an organisation that also comprises other people, for example, survivors and well-wishers, looking to raise awareness about cancers in Rwanda and offer help to patients, financial and psychological.

In an interview with The New Times, Dr. Fidele Rubagumya, an oncologist at the Rwanda Military Hospital (RMH) who is RCR’s Board Chairman explained that he has experienced situations where patients or their loved ones fail to talk about what they are going through, yet “sometimes it is important to have someone to talk to.”

“So we came up with this initiative so that people can share their stories regarding cancer. This will help us to raise awareness and to debunk some of the existing myths and misconceptions about the disease in Rwanda,” he added.

In his practice as an oncologist, Rubagumya has seen many people being abandoned or stigmatized because of having cancer.

“I will give you an example. I had a patient – a young lady who was due to get married but the family of her husband-to-be decided to reject the marriage because she had been diagnosed with cancer. These are things that happen very often, and so, we want to make sure that people who have cancers are not stigmatized in our society.”

He noted that the competition will be annual.

“Cancer diagnosis sometimes can unleash a storm of emotions and a lot of questions; and when people start treatment, it is like moving into an unknown path – for patients themselves and their friends and family,” he noted.

This year’s edition is already underway, and people with stories can submit them all through the month of January, and stand to win several prizes ranging from Rwf500,000 to 100,000.

“We have started the contest with only English essays, but we hope to add Kinyarwanda and French as we move forward,” he said.

He noted that the initiative can also assist in fighting myths, for example, where people think that cancer is a death sentence.

“Some people think that if you have cancer it equals death, but this is wrong. There are many cancers which we are sure that when you get treated, especially when you are diagnosed early, then you can get cured,” he said.

He further highlighted that there are more myths for example where some people think cancers are contagious, yet they are not.

He added: “We also want to tell people that cancers can be treated in Rwanda. There are people who think that when you are diagnosed with cancer, you have to go abroad for treatment. However, cancer is treated in Rwanda as well. Cancer treatment is mainly surgery, chemotherapy and radi – and all these are available in Rwanda in different hospitals,” he said.

Besides the competition, Rubagumya noted that their organisation has some more projects lined up, for example, building an accommodation facility for patients that travel from upcountry areas for radiotherapy treatment in Kigali.

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