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Tharcisse Mpunga, MD
Goal: To promote early detection of breast cancer and improve quality of care in low-resource communities in Rwanda.
Impact: Drs. Mpunga and Shulman have trained hundreds of clinicians in breast health care and provided breast exam screening to thousands of patients in the country’s Burera district. Their efforts have led to a significant improvement in patient outcomes in an area where women have a much higher risk of dying of breast cancer.
What’s next: The doctors will continue to expand their program to other districts in Rwanda. They also plan to develop a mobile platform to help guide patients with concerning breast symptoms through the country’s health care system so they can obtain timely care.
In low- to middle-income countries with limited resources such as Rwanda, breast cancer outcomes are poor due to lack of screening and follow-up. As a result, women are more likely to be diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, and they may not receive quality treatment. By focusing on training and infrastructure, Drs. Mpunga and Shulman are developing effective strategies to increase early detection and reduce time to treatment.
Full Research Summary
Research area: Creating infrastructure and training health care professionals to ensure that underserved women in Rwanda receive quality screening and treatment for breast cancer.
Impact: Breast cancer is a major public health concern in low- and middle-income countries such as Rwanda, where women have a much higher risk of dying from their disease. This is due partly to delayed and late-stage diagnoses. Drs. Mpunga and Shulman aim to increase early detection and reduce time to treatment, which could help improve breast cancer outcomes in Rwanda.
Current investigation: The team has been developing a breast cancer early detection program in the remote Burera District of Rwanda.
What they’ve accomplished so far: The research team trained hundreds of Rwandan health care workers in ways to educate patients about breast cancer, perform high-quality breast exams, utilize ultrasound to identify those who may have cancer, and refer patients for timely diagnosis and treatment. So far, the program has provided clinical breast exam screening to thousands of patients, including almost 7,000 women in two new districts in the country.
What’s next: Drs. Mpunga and Shulman will continue working with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health to expand their project to other districts in Rwanda and evaluate the program’s impact on the health system and patients. They also plan to develop a mobile platform to navigate patients with concerning breast symptoms through the health care system, so they receive prompt treatment.
Tharcisse Mpunga, MD, MSc, has been the Medical Director of Butaro Hospital in Rwanda since 2009. He led the development of Butaro's acclaimed new hospital facility that opened in 2011, serving a predominantly poor, rural population of about 350,000 people in Northern Rwanda. In 2012 Dr. Mpunga oversaw the opening of Butaro Center of Excellence in Cancer Care, the first rural cancer referral center in Africa and the only cancer-focused facility in Rwanda. Dr. Mpunga also leads numerous research efforts at Butaro in partnership with the Ministry of Health, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Partners in Health, including implementation and evaluation of the center's unique telepathology program and a cohort study of breast cancer patients.