Retinoblastoma in Rwanda

Retinoblastoma is the most common eye tumor in children worldwide. The first sign is usually a white discoloration of the pupil. Thanks to early diagnosis and adequate treatment, survival rates of more than 95% are achieved in the US and Europe.

In contrast, survival rates in developing countries are unfortunately very low, firstly because children with retinoblastoma present late and secondly, because the current treatment options - which include chemotherapy- are not present in most developing countries. In many cases, the tumor is already very large at the time the child reaches the hospital, growing beyond the eye and into the orbit. If the child presents with an advanced tumor, the results of treatment are often disappointing even if treatment included chemotherapy and adequate surgery. Long-term survival in these advanced cases remain very poor.

One of the important breakthroughs in retinoblastoma treatment has been the introduction of chemotherapy which can not only cure the cancer but also avoid enucleation (surgical removal) of eyes with small tumors. Chemotherapy used in retinoblastoma treatment has relatively few side-effects, and does not  require  long hospitalizations. Children do have to come on a monthly basis for chemotherapy and feel sick during 2 days after chemo administration.

In Rwanda, a retinoblastoma treatment program  has been established at Kabgayi Hospital since 2012. This includes administering chemotherapy, performing surgery (enucleation) when necessary, and local treatment procedures such as laser and cryotherapy. 

The Retina Repair Foundation is committed to improve the treatment of retinoblastoma in Rwanda and reduce the suffering caused by this horrible disease. The RRF has supported retinoblastoma treatment in Rwanda by funding a LASER machine. LASER treatment of small retinal tumors can avoid removal of the affected eye. To improve the survival chances by treating children early, RRF supports a retinoblastoma awareness campaign in Rwanda. This campaign targets the general population through regular radio programs. Health care workers  active in eye care are also sensitized for the problem and they are advised to watch out for children with a white pupil and asked to refer them promptly. This is really a key issue as interviews with parents have pointed out that a white pupil had often been observed by themselves and by health care workers for a long time, without any further referral to an ophthalmologist.

Furthermore, Retina Repair Foundation believes that it is worthwhile to financially support parents and retinoblastoma kids for their transport to and fro the hospital. RB treatment  involves regular visits to the hospital. Some patients cannot afford transport costs and by consequence abandon the treatment, which is given free of charge at Kabgayi Hospital, Rwanda. Others do not turn up for follow up visits, because of long distances to the hospital.

The Retina Repair Foundation considers training of medical and paramedical personnel as its main mission. There were several visits of Dutch and Belgian retina experts over the past years to Kabgayi Eye Unit, Rwanda. Clearly the current retinoblastoma treatment program at Kabgayi, Rwanda has already brought hope for retinoblastoma children in this region of Africa. The Retina Repair Foundation is committed to help improve retinoblastoma survival rates in Rwanda by promoting early detection and early appropriate treatment for all patients in the region.