We are lucky to have supporters all over the world engaged in our mission- Australia to the Americas and Asia to Africa. LIVESTRONG Leaders are in charge of spreading the message of hope and encouraging others in their area to reduce cancer stigma, share their cancer stories and support the foundation’s efforts locally. One of our leaders, Dr Mateus Kambale Sahani, is the Director of the Health Department at Agir Ensemble in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Delivering care in a place like The Congo is practically impossible. Mateus has asked to share his story and the story of those help helps every day affected by cancer. Please read to learn more about his unique clinic and how you can help them provide care to those most in need.
What is the cancer situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)?
Cancer in DRC is a catastrophic situation in all aspects: many myths, fears, misunderstandings, less skills, etc. Cancer means death in general population and almost all health professionals and stakeholders don’t know that cancer can be prevented and/or treated.
In DRC, no cancer service is available: no chemotherapy is available, no colposcopy service is available, no mammography is available and no palliative care service is available in whole the country. This means that when a patient has cancer, he must die even if he is not poor. The common frequent cancers in DRC are: cervical cancer (first place), breast cancer (the second place), prostate cancer is the first for men. Cervical being the first in prevalence and mortality, no woman has access to cervical cancer screening in all the life, HPV vaccine in not known in the country and is not available, no mammography in all the life for a big country in the central of Africa with more than 75 million of people among them 60% are women.
Are people able to gain access to treatment how/what’s in the way?
Agir Ensemble is the only and leading cancer organization in the country and there is no oncologist in the country; no specific oncology units in hospitals. All cancer patients are together with other patient in internal medicine, pediatrics, OB/GYN, surgery. Only surgery can be done and this is only possible when patients arrive early at the hospital. The main challenge is that almost all patients (99%) arrive at the hospital at late stage of the disease and at this time nothing can be done. Patients arrive at the hospital only to get the diagnosis and then doctors tell them to go back home to die in family because no medicines are available, no palliative care service available, no screening service available (colposcopy, mammography, etc).
What is your organization doing to make a difference?
When I saw that no one had interest in oncology, people where dying without any assistance; this revolted me to undertake a strong action against cancer in the country. I knew that it is a very difficult mission for me as the country is very big but I knew also that if I don’t speak about cancer no one else could pay attention on cancer. That is why I decided to bring Agir Ensemble becoming UICC member and I mounted a clinic to allow Agir Ensemble treating what can be treated. It is an oncology clinic but we can also treat other patients who want our services. Our priorities are to invest in cancer prevention, especially setting a colposcopy unit for cervical cancer prevention, mammography unit for breast cancer prevention and early detection and smoking cessation service. The main challenge to achieve this mission is no having access to funding and equipment.
This is a first obstacle that Agir Ensemble and IFCPC have overcome but at this stage, a competent colposcopist exists in the country but the disease continues killing women because of missing equipment!
How are you transferring the LIVESTRONG message to the patients?
We have organized many workshops, public education campaigns to raise awareness and many LIVESTRONG day events. People know more about cancer, about LIVESTRONG but some times I don’t have courage to tell people that I’m a LIVESTRONG Leader because I don’t have all the necessary to help patients getting treatment and/or service they need.
What does your organization need to make its mission possible?
It is clearly known that 80% of cancer cases and deaths are in developing countries like D.R.Congo and if nothing is done today, the number of cancer will triple. Specifically in my country, D.R.Congo, service are not available and no cancer patients can be treated, this means that no cancer survivor cancer found. Organizations and individuals could help us to initiate programs as we are initiating cervical cancer prevention program. They could help us with equipments like colposcopes, mammography equipments or to connect us in clinical trials programs to allow patients in D.R.Congo getting access to cancer treatment, or we can hold training of doctors in the country.
Dr Mateus Kambale Sahani
Director of Health Department
If you are able to assist Mateus and Agir Ensemble, please contact us by emailing our Email LIVESTRONG Leader program.