A day in the life of a paediatric oncologist in Malawi

  • Lin and Thako were discharged from Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital after successful treatment
  • Dr George Chagaluka

On our recent trip to Malawi Programmes Manager, Joe and I met the wonderful Dr George Chagaluka. We decided to spend a day in the shoes of Malawi’s sole paediatric oncologist to find out more about the realities of treating children with cancer in developing countries.

At 09:00 I joined Dr. Chagaluka on his ward rounds. All patients were doing well and two young boys, Lin and Thako, who had been receiving treatment for leukaemia were able to go home after months of treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH). They and their mothers were relieved to be going home and the process for discharge was quick and simple. One of the nurses issued both mothers with travel vouchers which could be exchanged for travel expenses.

The great news saw the children receive a customary ‘high-five’ from George which planted smile on the faces of Lin and Thako. A great personality with the children, informative with the parents and a collaborative work ethic with his colleagues, George was incredibly professional and dedicated throughout.

Despite the successful discharge of Lin and Thako, another patient was not responding so well to treatment. Bomani, a young boy with cancer, had a rapid reduction in his white blood cell count and was quickly losing weight. George consulted his colleagues for a second opinion and they all concluded that the boy would die if he did not receive more chemotherapy but that his immune system may not be strong enough to withstand further treatment. George spoke to Bomani’s mother about her son’s condition to explain the risks involved.

George reiterated the importance of explaining treatment processes to the parents of children to increase awareness and understanding of childhood cancer. He explained that many of the children on the ward, including Bomani, could have been treated far sooner had they been brought to hospital earlier. Despite the contrast in progress for the patients George and I had visited, he remained determined and focused to ensure each child on the ward, including Bomani, would receive the treatment they needed to give them the best possible chances of survival. The decision was taken for Bomani to undergo further chemotherapy and George was confident that he could survive. His dedication was infectious to all those around him from colleagues to patients and myself!

George went above and beyond in his work to ensure all the families knew what their child was going through. George is under enormous pressure as Malawi’s only paediatric oncologist but he embraces the challenge. World Child Cancer supported George’s training and with more funds we can help more children like Bomani, Lin and Thako by training more healthcare professionals in developing countries. George is an inspiration to all and it was great to spend a day shadowing his work and meeting the children and their families at QECH.

Every child deserves the opportunity to grow up but for many, this opportunity is taken away from them by treatable and curable forms of cancer. You can give the gift of growing up to children like Bomani by donating today.

About the author

Lisa Fernandes

Lisa joined World Child Cancer in February 2016. With extensive experience in fundraising for large cancer charities, Lisa leads the Community and Events team to grow income and inspire individuals and community groups in the UK and worldwide to raise funds for World Child Cancer.