Ghana has only six paediatric oncologists – Dr Segbefia

Ghana has only six paediatric oncologists as cases of childhood cancers continue to increase in the country.

A trend of cases in three major health facilities in the country; Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (KBTH), Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) and Tamale Teaching Hospital (TTH), shows that, from 2018 to 2021 a total of 1,406 children were diagnosed with one childhood cancer disease or the other.

Dr Catherine Segbefia, a Paediatric Oncologist at the KBTH who disclosed these said, “we expect to see about 1,500 children between zero to 19 years every year with new diagnosis of cancer but we are only diagnosing a little over 400 which means that more than half of children who should have access to care for childhood cancer are not getting it because the diagnosis is not being made and most are dying without knowing it is cancer.”

She was speaking at the second annual lecture in memory of Professor Jacob Plange-Rhule, one of Ghana’s renowned physicians and former Rector of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, in Accra yesterday.

The lecture which eulogised the works of the late professor who died of COVID-19 infection in 2020, sought to track Ghana’s progress on the “WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC) through the lens of policy, national response and the service provider.”

The initiative being implemented in five other countries targets six childhood cancers; Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Burkitt Lymphoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma, Retinoblastoma, Wilms Tumor and Low Grade Glioma, with the aim of reaching at least a 60 per cent survival rate for patients by 2030.

Dr Segbefia said of the six targeted cancers, “five make up at least 60 per cent of cases we see in Ghana” with “more than 70 per cent of the cases presenting late.”

She pointed out challenges including low awareness on childhood cancers among members of the public and health workers, delayed diagnosis and misdiagnosis, weak referral systems and financial constraints which often impacted effective treatment.

The Head of Child Health Department at the University of Ghana Medical School said, despite government announcement of enrolling four childhood cancers unto the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), implementation was yet to take place, almost a year on.

She called for improved training on childhood cancers among health workers, especially at the primary healthcare level to allow for early diagnosis and treatment urging parents and guardians as well to be on the lookout for early warning signs like reddening or pushing out of the eyes, lumps or swelling on any part of the body, especially of the jaw, swelling of the abdomen, limping, bone pains, unexplained weight loss and abnormal neurological signs.

A WHO Representative, Dr Sharon Kapamba, commended the government for taking the step to include childhood cancers on the NHIS, but called for the tailoring of “package of care to meet the needs of the populace.”

“We need to prioritise research into childhood cancers and increase advocacy and have a costed plan to reach the 60 per cent target by 2030,” she urged.

For his part, Mr Emmanuel Ayire Adongo, the World Child Cancer (WCC) Regional Coordinator for sub-Saharan Africa, organisers of the lecture, expressed his outfit commitment to “ensure that every child diagnosed of cancer in Ghana has access to treatment and care.”

BY ABIGAIL ANNOH

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