As well as this being my first programme visit with World Child Cancer, my trip to Myanmar was also my first visit to a paediatric oncology unit. I was nervous at first, wondering how I would cope with seeing children and families that were going through some of the most difficult times of their lives but I was also looking forward to finding out more about why we do what we do.
First stop on the visit was Yangon Children’s Hospital. World Child Cancer has been supporting this hospital for four years now and that was clear to see with the quality of treatment being provided. I met Dr Aye Aye Khaing who was a true inspiration with her dedication, work ethic and shear presence. It was clear to see the team and hospital as a whole benefited greatly from her guidance, she is affectionately known as the mother of the unit.
We later travelled to Mandalay Children’s Hospital which is a relatively new addition to our programme in Myanmar. The conditions here were considerably more challenging especially in terms of hygiene with limited wash basins available for patients and staff along with a restricted water supply. These combined circumstances result in an elevated risk of infection and is something we are hoping to improve in the future.
I was struck by the families’ reluctance to show and share their emotions with one another or the staff who were on hand. Bearing the burden of having a child with cancer alone can be daunting. With Counsellor Megan Cruise volunteering in Myanmar for the next three months, we hope she can help lift some of that burden and allow families and healthcare workers to learn to support each other by sharing their feelings.
Speaking to the teams in both hospitals, it was clear that treatment abandonment was a major issue and was often disheartening for the staff on the ward. When a child began to look or feel better, parents would often return home with their child without completing treatment. This was usually due to a lack of finances with families unable to afford the cost of treatment or loss of income, whilst others simply did not understand how vital it is to complete treatment.
Overall, I came away from my first programme visit with a strong awareness for the challenges ahead but also optimism of what we know we can achieve. Our future aims for Myanmar will involve improving services in Mandalay through a development of a new set of treatment guidelines, expanding our shared care centres and supporting the training of GPs across the country. With help from our supporters, we can give children in Myanmar the treatment and care that they need to battle cancer.