Rwandan palliative care doctor receives international award for cancer leadership

Categories: Care.

ehospice caught up with Dr Ntizimira to talk about his work, the award and palliative care as a human right in Rwanda.

Can you tell me about your current work?

I’m working in advocacy and research department from the Rwanda Palliative Care and Hospice Organisation (RPCHO), a private Non-Profit Organization working with the Rwanda Ministry of Health to implement palliative care services in Rwandan communities.

My role in the organisation is to advocate that the concept of palliative care should be integrated in all health settings, but especially at the community level where most of our activities are.

RPCHO, with their partners Hospice without Borders and Roros Foundations, initiated a home visit care and end of life care program for vulnerable patients in the community.

Another part of my job is to educate peer colleagues and health professional about the necessity of this approach in our country by doing research projects, which hopefully will help to change attitudes and practice.

Can you tell me more about the award, and about the aspects of your own work that led to your nomination? 

During the UICC (Union for International Cancer Control) congress in Paris on 31 October to 3 November 2016, 10 young leaders under 40 years old from all over the world received the: ‘Young cancer leaders awards 2016’ for their work in human cancer care.

The young leaders were from: Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Kenya, Mongolia, Paraguay, Rwanda and the USA.

A current objective of UICC is to explore the potential for cities and city leaders to be mobilised in the development of cancer control programmes to address the equity gap in access to cancer prevention, screening, treatment and palliative care.

I think one of the key aspects of my work that led me to win was my determination to advocate that palliative care is an essential component of human cancer care.

It is essential to mention it when people talk about cancer control, education, screening, access to chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Apart from your award, what were the highlights for you at the World Cancer Leader’s Summit in Paris?

An opportunity to meet and interact with all cancer leaders, CEOs, members of states who are involved in cancer control and learn from their experiences, failures and success which gave me a clearer picture of opportunities and challenges of leadership in cancer.

The summit gave us the privilege to create a network with past young leaders awardees who are now involved in many strong organizations working in cancer control.

What aspects of the work of your fellow nominees inspires you and why?

I was privileged to meet my peer awardees who are involved in different cancer activities and I have been inspired by the determination they have to continue to fight cancer and improve the lives of their patients despite the huge challenges we all face in this field.

It was inspiring to hear their personal stories that brought them into the field of cancer control and what makes them wake up in the morning and continue to fight cancer.

What are the particular nuances and challenges of providing palliative care in Rwanda?

In 2011, Rwanda was the first country in Africa to launch a national palliative care policy, standard and implementation plan, committing the country to providing all people with an incurable illness with high-quality, affordable palliative care services to meet their physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs by 2020.

From my experience, I think the main challenge is that the concept of palliative care itself is still misunderstood.

In your opinion, is access to palliative care a human rights issue? If so, can you explain why? 

In my opinion, access to palliative care is not only a human rights issue but a fundamental aspect of human dignity.

Human rights should not only be considered in political area or social, psychological, economic and gender aspect but also in health sector, especially for those who think that there is nothing to do for a patient who has an incurable illness.

In Rwanda, we understood very well this context because of the part of our dark history in 1994 when the genocide against Tutsi took one million people in 100 days, humanity itself  was also lost.

Serious illnesses affect the dignity of our patients and I strongly believe that the concept of palliative care could contribute a lot to bring back the sense of dignity to patients and their families through the holistic quality of life.

To do otherwise is to deny the reality of being human.

What do you think needs to happen for people in Rwanda and the rest of Africa to have adequate access to palliative care? 

I think for people in Rwanda and the rest of Africa there is still a long way to go to learn from our own perspectives before an imperative understanding of the concept of palliative care can change our attitudes and practice.

The African continent has many potential young leaders in different sectors and it will be a great legacy if the new generation of health providers, not only in African countries, but also worldwide, could integrate the concept of humanity into global health. I think that this shift in perception could make a big difference in access of palliative care in every corner of Africa and around the world.

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