The thought of a child dying of cancer is devastating but is even more outrageous when you know that is an avoidable death.
One name that always comes to mind when I talk about childhood cancers is Michael (name changed). He was one of the patients I encountered and one who gave me so much to hope for children with cancer while I worked with the Pediatric Oncology team. He was diagnosed with, Leukemia and just like all the other children with cancers, stayed much longer on the ward and so I got fond of him.
I would usually greet him in the morning when I came to work and ask how he was doing, and his smile alone meant hope to me. Sadly, on one fateful day I got to work and was informed he had passed! This was a huge loss for me! I had lost not just a patient, but a friend!
Cancers are abnormal growth of cells in the body and yes, they do occur in children too. Cancer is the leading cause of death in adolescents and children with approximately 300 00 cases recorded each year among adolescents and children aged 0-19 worldwide according to the WHO.
In Ghana, there are about 1300 new cases recorded each year with only about 23% seen at the hospital, diagnosed and receiving treatment. In high income countries, statistics have shown that more than 80% of children with cancer are cured while only about 20% of those in middle and low-income countries are cured.
Recent advancement in treatment of pediatric cancers have resulted in a remarkable increase in the 5-year survival rate, with over 80% living up to 5years and more after being diagnosed.
Multiple factors contribute to the difference in cure rates observed in the two geographical locations: sociocultural, religious, environmental, economic and political factors. These factors somewhat influence presentation at the hospital, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. In Ghana for instance, there is little knowledge and awareness about the disease hence the late presentation at the hospital.
There are so many myths surrounding childhood cancers. Some think that cancers cannot occur in children. Others believe it is not curable and another school of thought are of the opinion that it is contagious hence can be transmitted from one child to another. Parents resort to traditional healers, Mallams and Pastors when their children are diagnosed with cancers. Quite a number sadly press for discharge against medical advice on the premise of exhaustion of all their sources of revenue and their willingness to seek alternative treatment.
Ghana has only five centers providing pediatric oncology services with only six trained pediatric oncologists nationwide. This is woefully inadequate and pragmatic steps have to be taken to increase opportunities for training of specialists in the field and to decentralize service delivery to increase access to treatment. The childhood cancer data systems that drive continuous improvements in quality of care and policy decisions have not been well established.
The huge cost burden on the families of children with cancer is largely due to the fact that the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) does not provide coverage for diagnosis and treatment. The total cost of diagnosis and treatment of children with cancer is usually about 14 000 to 42 000 Gh Cedis. It is important that social support systems are provided for affected families and a consideration made for coverage of part of the cost of treatment for cancers. The Ministry of Health should create awareness campaigns and strengthen the cancer surveillance systems to help identify children with cancers early. Above all increasing political will and commitment towards childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment is key in the fight.
Let’s Join the campaign! Together we fight for children living with cancer! To all philanthropists, politicians and patriotic citizens, our children are crying out loud
#support children living with cancers
#help us pay for treatment
WRITTEN BY: DR HEPHZIBAH OKYERE-MENSAH