Childhood cancers need support

A few days ago, I went checking on a child with cancer assisted by the Cancer Society of Ghana together with the Pledge Pink Campaign of the UT Bank. Although I did not meet the child personally, the fact that the child was out celebrating with other family members over a special occasion was enough to tell me that all was well with the child.

The child was fully back to life, back-to-school, making friends and enjoying childhood as should normally be the case.

For some of us who saw the child a few years ago going through the throes of cancer, the turn-around has been spectacular. For those closely involved in childhood cancer care, the result is not unexpected.

With early and appropriate treatment, long term survival rates for a child with cancer can reach over 75 per cent (and even more than 90 per cent) cure rate as captured in our National Cancer document..

This is usually the outcome in developed countries. In Ghana the chances of survival for a child with cancer are less than 20 per cent. Several factors account for this with the first being late reporting. Family members are likely to try other therapies (options) before reporting.

These trials may continue even when diagnosed because of myths and misconceptions about cancer in our society. For those family members who accept the situation, a major barrier to timely and effective care, is cost of therapy.

Already, the family may have spent lots and lots of money on the other options before reporting at the health care facility. Many a time, people tend to think only about cost of medicines even though I share sentiments with proponents of waivers of tariffs on specialist medicines such as anti cancers.

The other aspect is the cost of investigations as part of anti cancer therapy. Anti cancer medicines could be harsh on normal cells and, therefore, require close and constant monitoring (and intervention) of effects on the body.

An aspect which goes unnoticed is the precounselling before, during and after cancer therapy.

For example the child may have to stop school at some point but must be encouraged and supported to go back to school.

You need trained persons and time, and resources must also be devoted to both the affected person and family members. It is completely different from providing care to someone with for example malaria. It can be long, exacting and painstaking. Some may begin treatment but abandon it after initial therapy.

I saw a paper titled, “Impact of Cancer Support Groups on Childhood Cancer Treatment and Abandonment in a Private Oncology Centre”(Srinivasan et al, Indian J. Palliat Care. 2015 Jan-Apr; 21(1)). In Ghana our childhood cancer cases are mainly managed at Korle Bu and Komfo Anokye Teaching hospitals.

Notwithstanding this, the issues of incomplete treatment due to financial barriers remains a problem.

I believe the clarion call for full coverage of childhood cancers under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) at the launch of this year’s Childhood Cancer Month (September) is evident of a similar challenge in Ghana.

The theme is “Act now for childhood cancer-Better Access to Care.”

The nature and incidence of cancer in developing economies such as Ghana, make it a daunting task for the cadres within the health care delivery system to tackle alone.

It will certainly require complementary roles of support groups to provide comprehensive cancer care.

I began by telling you of a follow-up on a child we assisted to access cancer care sometime ago.

I believe there are many more children in need of such interventions. I do know that the Dr. Robert Mitchel Memorial Foundation (RoMMef) has similar experiences.

Globally about 176,000 children develop cancer each year, with about 80 per cent of these living in developing countries such as Ghana.

The good news about childhood cancer is that about 85 per cent of them are curable if seen early.

It is often said that children are the future of a nation no matter the condition the child may find him or her self.

Just fancy this from an 11 year old with cancer being prepared for cancer chemotherapy asking you this about one of the medications.

“I want you to be honest with me, Sir. Kindly tell me everything that these medications could do to me apart from destroying the cancer.”

It is not so much as the request but the potential this child has to the overall development of our dear nation.

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