“No Woman Should Succumb to Cervical Cancer” – UGHE Student Yvette on a Quest to Prevent Unnecessary Deaths

Cervical and Breast cancer is preventable yet it’s among the prevalent types of cancer impacting women globally, mostly in low-and middle-income countries underscoring the significance of screening and early detection – even for apparently healthy women. 

Dr. Yvette Nkurunziza was an intern medical doctor when she found herself confronting the harsh reality of late-stage cancer diagnoses during her clinical work in Rwamagana provincial hospital, in Eastern province, Rwanda.  

Witnessing the devastation caused by cervical and breast cancers and the need for increased awareness and accessibility to cervical and breast cancer screenings in Rwanda, Yvette embarked on a mission to address late diagnoses fueled by empathy and determination through her project “Awaken Her Initiative”. 

She highlights, “I was saddened by how patients would come when their cervical or breast cancer was in the last stage and has become severe, yet with a simple screening they would have started early diagnosis.” 

“Cancer is not Death” – Bringing Breast and Cervical Cancer Screening Close to the Community 

Dr. Yvette educating people on breast and cervical cancer and the importance of early screening in 2023.

Upon witnessing the issue, Yvette co-founded the Awaken Her Initiative (AHI), alongside three fellow medical professionals, Dr Clarisse Iradukunda,Dr. Philbert Kambali and Dr Alipe Rwamatwara. Together, they aimed to tackle the alarmingly low rate of cervical cancer screenings in Rwanda, where the screening participation of eligible women range from 2.6% to 28.3% despite their widespread availability. 

AHI’s multifaceted approach includes community outreach programs, talks on radios and TVs in Rwanda, and a unique women-to-women awareness model,” Yvette explains. “Our goal is to empower and inspire Rwandan women for early breast and cervical cancer screening to ensure early diagnosis and prevention and spreading a good gospel that cancer can be treated when diagnosed at early stage. Cancer is not death.”  

Through these initiatives, Yvette and her peers seek to break down barriers, combat myths, and eradicate the stigma surrounding cervical cancer screenings. Besides, by leveraging the experiences of cervical cancer survivors, and medical experts, they are striving to empower Rwandan women with knowledge about the importance of early screening and prevention. 

While successful in raising awareness through community outreach and talks on media, Yvette acknowledges that the journey is ongoing. She identified gaps in her approach, particularly the need to approach women reproductive health challenges with expert health focused project management perspective, evidence-based strategies and policy advocacy. 

Amplifying Impact through Research and Advocacy 

Spurred into action, Yvette sought to expand her efforts through strategic management and partnerships, research, and advocacy, and she found it in the Master of Science in Global Health Delivery (MGHD) program at UGHE.  

Now an MGHD Class of 2024 student in Gender, Sexual and Reproductive Health Option, Yvette is being exposed to the best practices necessary to help her refine her project’s impact by incorporating strategic partnerships, evidence-based interventions and advocating for policy changes that address reproductive health challenges for women. 

At UGHE, I am gaining a deeper understanding of how to effectively use advocacy in raising awareness about breast and cervical cancer,” she explains. “The program’s focus on evidence-based interventions and practical experience equips me to utilize research as a means of informing the public about the severity of the issue I am addressing and offering recommendations that call for collective efforts to address it.” 

Yvette having fun time at Butaro Campus with peers in her cohort – MGHD’24.

As she navigates her studies, Yvette finds inspiration from her diverse cohort of peers hailing from 14 countries across the globe. She emphasizes the value of understanding different perspectives and challenges related to reproductive health across various countries.  

I have learned about different perspectives and challenges related to reproductive health across the globe,” she reflects. “This collaborative environment not only enriches my learning experience but also challenges my biases so I can look beyond my comfort bubble.” 

The collaborative environment at UGHE has not only broadened her understanding but also facilitated partnerships in grant applications, allowing her to expand her project ‘s reach. She explains, “I’ve received support from like-minded peers who are engaged in social projects for improving women’s health, assisting me in understanding how to apply for impactful grants and exchanging ideas on overcoming the challenges encountered by our social projects.” 

Looking ahead, Yvette is eager to apply her newfound skills and knowledge to drive positive change. “After graduation, I’m looking forward to expanding my impact through research and advocacy,” she shares. 

Her commitment to advocacy is evident as she aims to collaborate with others to raise awareness about women’s health challenges, particularly focusing on cervical cancer. Having secured the prestigious D-prize grant in 2023, she is now equipped with the management, partnership, advocacy, and research skills needed to attract more partners and scale up her project. 

Dr. Yvette’s journey exemplifies UGHE’s mission as a Partners In Health initiative – dedicated to training the next generation of global health leaders committed to equity. Through her project, the Awaken Her Initiative (AHI), Yvette aims to leverage her experience and skills acquired through the MGHD-GSRH program to illuminate a path towards a future where no woman succumbs to breast and cervical cancer due to lack of early screening and awareness. With each empowered woman, she anticipates a healthier and more equitable society. 

Across Rwanda, women have the opportunity to receive free cancer screenings through Partners In Health, known locally as Inshuti Mu Buzima, in collaboration with various NGOs and the Ministry of Health. These screenings are part of PIH-led Women’s Cancer Early Detection program, which facilitates access to life-saving treatment for thousands of women. Typically, the program entails training community health workers and nurses to deliver educational sessions, screening services, and facilitate referrals for patients requiring additional medical attention.