Earlier this year I visited the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Malawi with Programmes Manager Joe Dixon. Joe and I spent our first day with Dr George Chagaluka, lead paediatric oncologist at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre.
First up was a handover meeting where all the doctors discussed events from the last 24 hours including the number of inpatients, outpatients and any deaths that occurred. It was nice to observe the way they communicated with one another, shared learnings and offered each other advice for next steps and treatment options including what was available. George then showed us around the entire Paediatric wing of the hospital including various departments.
We were then taken to meet the Hospital Director and George kindly introduced Joe and I and our roles at World Child Cancer which was warmly received with thanks and a sincere welcome. We appreciated that his time was precious and so quickly summarised the purpose of our visit to ensure that our support for George and his team continues long into the future.
We were very fortunate to then be taken on a ward round with George, Nurse Patricia and a young junior doctor on an internship. The junior doctor was carefully observing George, taking notes and following instructions whenever he was asked to. George included him into the discussions when diagnosing a new inpatient to assist with his learning and development. It was clear from the outset how much respect everyone had for Dr Chagaluka from the nurses to the mothers. Likewise, George was extremely calm and patient, taking the time to pass on his valuable wisdom to all members of his team, praising them when they were correct or challenging them when they were not quite right.
George displayed a wonderful spirit and he made everyone smile as he carefully attended to each patient reading their latest charts. George had also quite clearly built up a rapport with the mothers and fathers, reassuring them of their child’s diagnosis and updating them on next steps whilst exuberating an air of calm. Joe and I met over 20 children with cancer and George carefully told us their name, age and diagnosis, showing us their x rays where applicable. Each child had a very different diagnosis and were at difference stages of their treatments for Leukaemia, Wilms Tumour and Burkitt’s Lymphoma. Some were awaiting surgery, some recently had a round of chemotherapy and in desperate need of liquid morphine to ease the pain but others were on the road to recovery and all smiles as George assessed their great progress with ‘very good’ and a high five.
Incredibly, with a population of over 18 million people, George is the country’s sole paediatric oncologist. George’s training was supported by World Child Cancer and with the development of twinning partnerships with hospitals in developed countries, like Newcastle’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, we can continue to train more healthcare workers in the developing world.
George has a highly competent team at his side but it’s apparent that they need more resources and equipment to continue to provide care to such an excellent standard. My first experience on the children’s ward at the QECH was remarkable.
You can help Dr Chagaluka and his team to improve treatment standards and reach more children with cancer. 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 these children by donating today.