Written by Njoka Divine Ngwang
Edited by Peter Tah
Every 2 minutes, throughout the world, a child dies of cancer. Children’s cancers are responsible for about 90,000 global deaths every year.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 70% of cancers can be treated if diagnosed early. Children’s cancers are ever so often detected later because some parents and even health workers do not have sufficient awareness of the warning signs.
CBC Health Services is more than ever determined to ensure that no child dies of cancer in Cameroon. Through hard work and determination, the organization has recorded many successes over the years.
Honesty, 21, is a cancer survivor who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of seven. She still remembers how her cancer was diagnosed and subsequently treated at Mbingo Baptist Hospital. “It all started in November 2004 when I had a painless swelling on my jaw. Two months later, it became painful and I was taken to the hospital where I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma and [my] treatment lasted for four months,” says Honesty with a broad smile.
Honesty is now pursuing her dream of becoming a veterinary doctor. She is a children’s cancer ambassador in her own right as she advises other parents of children with signs of cancer to avoid traditional medicines and rush to the hospital for conventional treatment. Her testimony spells hope for all childhood cancer patients.
Yannick is a three-year-old boy who was also cured of cancer. His father, Alfred, a teacher by profession says, “My son had a swelling by the side [around the abdomen] and when I took him to the hospital, he was diagnosed of Wilms’ tumour. The doctor then referred us to Mbingo Baptist Hospital to see Dr. Francine Kouya [an Oncologist]. There, Chemotherapy was performed on my son on weekly bases. Today, my son is cured of cancer and is doing well,” explains the visibly happy Alfred.
“The doctor said we were lucky the sickness was discovered earlier,” says Alfred, who remains very grateful to the CBC Health Services and World Child Cancer for subsidizing his son’s treatment. With a dazzling smile, he says, “Going to Mbingo I didn’t expect that my child’s treatment would be subsidized. The doctor who referred us had told me that chemotherapy and surgery could cost about FCFA 450,000 but when we arrived Mbingo, I spent only about FCFA 56, 000 for the treatment.”
Apart from Honesty and Yannick, there are over 1,600 children who have been treated of cancer by the CBC Health Services.
With the development of more adaptable treatment protocol by the CBC Health Services and subsidies for treatment of children with cancers from partners like the Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust, Stellenbosch University, World Child Cancer, and Leeds Children’s Hospital, every child deserves a chance to be cured of cancer.
Glenn Mbah, CBC Health Services’ Childhood Cancer Programme Coordinator, says, “Our treatment centres use adapted protocols from the West for treating of cancers. Over the years, the CBC Health Services has advanced and upgraded the protocol and can boast of a 55% survival rate of cancer children.”
Nurse Practitioner, Vera Njamnshi explains that chemotherapy is the most popular modality of treating cancer in CBC Health Services’ hospitals and involves giving medicines that destroy cancer cells. “Sometimes, chemotherapy is accompanied by surgery and other treatment procedures,” she adds.
Even though there is progress in instilling hope for childhood cancer kids, limited progress in pediatric oncology drug development remains a major concern amongst children’s cancer stakeholders. Many children and adolescents with cancer still suffer as a result of severe and toxic treatments resulting in lifelong health issues.
In the CBC Health Services, the treatment and care for childhood cancers entail medical treatment of the child and psycho-social support for the child and the whole family. Through this holistic approach, the treatment of cancer in CBC hospitals involves many specialists including laboratories technicians, nurses, surgeons, an oncologist, pathologists, physicians, nutritionists, pediatricians, social workers, and chaplains. In this way, the patients and their immediate families are given relevant psycho-social and spiritual counseling and guidance required to take care of the patient.
The CBC Health Services continues to innovate and seek better ways to care for children with cancers. The introduction of palliative care has been described as an appropriate response to childhood cancer diagnosis as palliative care can be given alongside the treatment.
The Childhood Cancer Programme Coordinator, Glenn Mbah, regrets the fact that the number of childhood cancer cases seen every year in CBC hospitals and health centres is on the increase. “The CBC Health Services sees about 150 children with cancer every year in Banso Baptist Hospital, Mbingo Baptist Hospital, and Baptist Hospital Mutengene.”
“It is estimated that about 1000 children in Cameroon suffer from cancer every year, but only about 300 of them are diagnosed,” reveals Glenn. Given these figures, the CBC Health Services is more and more committed to educating people and creating awareness on childhood cancers, the different types, and care for children with cancer available in the hospitals.
The CBC Health Services works in collaboration with other childhood cancer treatment centres in the country, including the Hematology/Oncology Unit of the Chantal Biya Foundation Mother and Child Centre in Yaounde, and the Mount Mary Catholic Hospital in Buea. At a time when the World Health Organization is aiming for 60% survival for all children with cancer by 2030, it is believed that synergistic partnerships for early diagnosis and prompt holistic management of childhood cancer patients is the way forward.