Archive | June, 2018

Doctors See Success at Butaro Cancer Center

11 Jun
PIH feature

Photos by Cecille Joan Avila / Partners In Health

 

Dr. Cyprien Shyirambere examines 6-year-old pediatric oncology patient Frank Mugisha, whose name has been changed, for privacy, at the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence in rural northern Rwanda. Medical staff at the PIH-supported facility have treated several thousand patients, young and old, since it opened in 2012.

Five years after opening, the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence is achieving extraordinary successes in rural northern Rwanda, amid daunting challenges.

Doctors at the Partners In Health-supported facility are treating about 1,700 patients every year, young and old, on the campus of the public Butaro District Hospital. The campus lies amid lush, green hills in a remote region not far from the Ugandan border. Many patients, family members, and caregivers travel to Butaro from across Rwanda or from surrounding countries such as Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where high-quality cancer care is scarce or nonexistent.

Some of Butaro’s greatest successes can be found in its youngest visitors—children who come to the cancer center with slim hopes buoyed by fighting spirits, often with cancer that is in late stages because of treatment delays or misdiagnoses elsewhere.

Patients in the pediatric ward last spring included Frank Mugisha, 6. In March, Frank completed 30 months of treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia and could be seen around Butaro playing and spending time with family members. Butaro staff will continue monitoring him for the next five years.

Dugan, who’s been a clinical officer in Butaro’s pediatric cancer ward for about a year, said relapse is a constant concern.

“It takes a long period of follow-up to be sure you’ve really cured someone,” she said.

Frank’s story is one of hundreds.

Inside the pediatric ward at the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence, a PIH-supported facility at Butaro District Hospital in rural northern Rwanda. Children in the ward often mix in schoolwork, activities, and playtime between treatment and checkups.

While Butaro is very successful, a shortage of health care workers is a key challenge – one that severely impacts Africa. Butaro’s staff often is boosted with support from Dana-Farber and PIH programs.

Jen Haley, for example, is a former Dana-Farber cancer nurse who worked at Butaro as an oncology nurse educator from September to December 2016, through a PIH program.

Haley said she helped nurses at Butaro learn to watch for symptoms at various treatment levels, improve the overall quality of treatment, and educate patients’ families and caregivers about cancer and related care.

“Kids are so resilient. One minute you’re giving them a shot and the next minute they’re running up and giving you a hug,” Haley said.

Butaro’s staff has to be equally resilient, amid limited resources.

They don’t have a CAT scanner, an intensive care unit, or enough nurses. Stocks sometimes run out of needed medicines, and radiotherapy machines are a distant hope.

Shyirambere said he draws strength from successes. Treating children with cancer can be incredibly emotional, he said, but the reward is seeing young patients come back for positive follow-ups, return to school, and resume healthy childhoods.

“You feel like your day has been excellent,” he said.

SAAPHI would like to thank Partners in Health (PIH) for their great work in Rwanda and other parts of the world.

This is an abridged version of an impact story that was originally published in September 2017 at https://www.pih.org/article/doctors-see-daily-success-butaro-cancer-center. Check out this photo gallery to see more images from Butaro’s pediatric cancer ward. Also, be on the look out for more SAAPHI and PIH webinars to learn more about their global public health work and look out for job opportunities from PIH from the SAAPHI listserv.

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