James King, World Child Cancer Chairman, recently embarked on his first programme visit to Ghana. This is part two of his blog describing his experiences as a first time visitor to Ghana and visiting a World Child Cancer programme.
After our first few days visiting Kumasi we had planned to fly down to Accra however our journey soon became more complicated than we had first imagined. We arrived at the airport as planned only to be told that all flights had been cancelled meaning we had to make the 250km journey by car!
The journey took close to five hours as we weaved our way across Ghana. To say the drive was interesting is the understatement of the year!
On the first morning after arriving in Accra we met the truly marvellous and inspirational, Professor Lorna Renner. I have to say her enthusiasm, dedication, authority and confidence shone through from the moment I met her. I was told that she should, in theory, be retired but is at the hospital every day. As we walked through the day care centre several children immediately ran towards Lorna to give her a big cuddle, this moment really stood out to me as it showed more than just her skills in paediatric oncology but also her incredible warmth as a person and what she meant to the children being cared for.
Lorna went on to give myself and the team a tour of the paediatric oncology unit which, unlike Kumasi, was separate from the other wards in the hospital. When comparing the two, it was clear to see just how much can be done with little funding which was inspiring to see as although there is a lot of work to be done, there is so much opportunity to give these children a better standard of care.
The ward felt calm and the children seemed happy as did the parents. There is still a huge shortfall in equipment, drugs and the availability of health and social care workers, but there was a feeling of really making the most of what they had and striving to do the very best they could.
We spoke to some of the parents and met with the children as we had done in Kumasi and there were similar stories of families struggling to access treatment due to the cost of treatment or distance to hospital. Some families had even had to travel from neighbouring countries!
Without the generosity of our supporters, so much of what I saw would not be possible meaning many of these children would die of their cancer despite them being curable. We asked the team at the hospital of a wishlist of items they would like if money was no object and some of the suggestions were things we could already think about providing. Trivial things like used tablets or televisions to act as distractors whilst children receive treatment are items we take for granted but would be invaluable in our programmes.
We later met some of the nurses that care for the children on the ward. The nurses go above and beyond in their roles and still wanted to do more. Many children are forced to abandon treatment due to financial costs or a lack of awareness whilst others never receive any form of treatment for the same reasons. The nurses we spoke to expressed their desire to expand outreach programmes to increase awareness of the importance of cancer care in the rural areas to ensure more children receive the treatment they need.
I later met with a man called John who is the head of the Parent Committee of which Our Programme Coordinator, George, is also a member of. We discussed future plans of creating a building for parents to stay at overnight, similar to that of the ‘We Care’ family support home in Cameroon. Currently, there are only two rooms that offer overnight accommodation for parents, both of which are overcrowded, and a new building would make a world of difference to those family members who are forced to leave their homes in search of treatment for their child.
After meeting John I must mention that he deserves a huge amount of credit for what he has done with the Parent Committee. We visited the site where the new parent home is being built and it will be fantastic. The aim is to have the building completed by November and this is something we should also strive for in Kumasi after seeing the conditions in which the parents are having to sleep in.
When leaving the hospital, I spoke to Lorna about our future plans and despite the obvious need for more funds, she exudes an aura of confidence. The determination of Lorna and the team to do all they can to support these children is so clear to see and we must continue to do our utmost to help them achieve their goals.
I found the trip to be incredibly enlightening, sad but above all; inspirational. The people I met were fantastic and I know there is so much opportunity for us to do more to help these children and their families.
After raising almost £850,000 during our appeal to Stop the Childhood Cancer Clock there is a huge opportunity for us to change the lives of these families for the better. The new project in Ghana launches in September, coinciding with Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, and there is reason to be optimistic.
The whole trip made me enormously proud to be a part of World Child Cancer and made me even more determined to do all we can to support these children.
During September we want you to join us in sharing one message; if detected early enough, , Childhood Cancer Can be Cured. Join us in helping to support children with cancer by sharing our message of hope on Facebook and Twitter and by donating