Your child has cancer. How do you engage a mother who has never heard of cancer and is totally oblivious to its existence? Yet, she has repeatedly sought care for her six-year-old daughter who has been ill for over a month. At first, she is told it’s just malaria, but several weeks later her child is deteriorating. When she finally finds closure – a diagnosis – she is left more confused than at the start of her journey.
All children have the right to live regardless of where they are born…
This is the story of many parents and children in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Sadly, many never find closure. Some families will receive their child’s cancer diagnosis quite late, when a cure has eluded them. Only a few in SSA will come to realize the existence of childhood cancer and live through it. That’s a sharp contrast from the tale in wealthier countries, where cancer has become a household name and the majority of children diagnosed with cancer will live into adulthood. In SSA, several factors underlie this disparity in survival, including a general lack of awareness, shortage of trained health care personnel, unavailability of diagnostic tools, and limited access to drugs and other modalities needed for treatment of cancers.
Fortunately, Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence), a unique partnership between Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine, is working to ensure many more children in SSA survive childhood cancers and blood disorders. Global HOPE’s mission is focused on building capacity to treat these conditions, and we are achieving it by partnering with local ministries of health of several African countries, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) and local Lions clubs. Since 2016, more than 8,000 children have been diagnosed and received treatment through Global HOPE. Children and families in one SSA country benefitting are from Malawi.
Dr. Nmazuo Ozuah with a young patient on International Childhood Cancer Day.
In the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe, Global HOPE has helped establish a pediatric hematology-oncology program serving as many as two-thirds of the country’s population. I’m excited to be part of this team of talented and dedicated medical staff working to bring hope to families and ensure that a diagnosis of childhood cancer in Malawi is not a death sentence. The potential for impact here is more than anything I have ever experienced. I am always amazed by the transformation in these children after they have begun treatment. The hope that resonates in their families is indescribable.
One of our goals is to get patients to be children, and when possible, free from the many discomforts and pains associated with cancer. Once they feel better and are able, the children are encouraged to engage in several fun-filled physical and social activities. Watching them play, dance, and be children has been the most rewarding part of my job.
The story of our impact could not be told without recognizing the help we have received from our strategic partners. It takes such strong partnerships and a multidisciplinary-themed approach to ensure we achieve our goals of improving survival of childhood cancer.
In Malawi, Global HOPE has been partnering with LCIF and local Lions to provide nutritional supplementation to children receiving treatment for cancer. More than 70 percent of the children we treat are malnourished at the time of diagnosis. As in many parts of the world, malnutrition is a big challenge, but the impacts get worse when children also get cancer. This becomes even more critical because a child’s nutritional state affects his or her tolerance of treatments received.
In SSA, more than 100,000 children get cancer each year, and currently 90 percent of them die. All children have the right to live regardless of where they are born – and this is the story of Global HOPE.
To learn more about how LCIF and Texas Children’s Global HOPE are partnering to fight childhood cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa, visit lionsclubs.org/GlobalHOPE.
Dr. Nmazuo Ozuah is a pediatric hematologist-oncologist with Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine.
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