World Child Cancer Chairman visits Ghana

James King, World Child Cancer Chairman, recently embarked on his first programme visit to Ghana. In this article (part one of two), James shares his first impressions on visiting Ghana and just what it means to visit one of our programmes first-hand.

“This was my first programme visit with World Child Cancer and my first time in Ghana. When speaking to people before my trip, many of them told me I would find a very friendly and committed group of people working across our programme. Since returning from Ghana I can confirm this is exactly what I found. All the people I met were very friendly and enthusiastic about the role World Child Cancer plays in helping to support children with cancer and their families.

Before visiting any of the hospitals, I settled down into a hotel with those joining me on the visit, giving me time to gather my thoughts on my first impressions of Ghana itself. The people I had met so far were very welcoming and happy to help but what struck me the most were the positive responses I received from those I had spoken to, both about World Child Cancer and the country in general.

For example, one of the key issues families we support face is access to treatment where many must travel several hours to reach a hospital with the capabilities to care for a child with cancer. World Child Cancer supports hospitals in both Kumasi and Accra and to travel between these two cities takes over four hours by car with only 25 miles of actual dual carriageway along the way – just getting to a hospital is a struggle in itself.

After settling into my new surroundings, we headed to Kumasi where we visited Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH).  The main ward was very busy with not much room for patients; children receiving treatment had no choice but to sit between other wards and the day-care centre, giving them little privacy and room to rest.

Whilst being treated for cancer, a child’s immune system is very weak – increasing their chances of infection. The lack of space at the hospital meant families accompanying their children had no resting areas when staying for extended periods of time. World Child Cancer is working to counteract these issues by working with KATH and developing plans to introduce additional beds to accommodate parents of children that are being treated and stay at hospital overnight.

I spoke to many families about their experiences and along the way I met Kafui who’s son, Commie, had previously undergone treatment for cancer at KATH. Kafui told me a story that I had read many times before when hearing of World Child Cancer’s work but hearing it from a father speaking about his son really struck me.

Kafui told me how Commie had become unwell several years ago and began to develop an irritation in his eye. Kafui took his son to see local doctors who tried to treat him with various medications but all to no avail. He was determined to find a cure for his child so Kafui insisted they be transferred to a hospital and was eventually referred to KATH in Kumasi, several hours away from their home town. It was here that Commie was diagnosed with cancer. Devastated by the news, Kafui was also forced to give up his full-time job in search of part-time employment as he was required to spend so much time with his son at the hospital. Eventually, Kafui and his son had to leave hospital simply because they could not afford the costs of treatment. Knowing your child has cancer, making a multi-hour journey to access treatment only to realise you simply could not afford it and be forced to return home is unimaginable for most but the reality for so many families in Ghana.

Fortunately, Commie’s family has now saved enough money to return for treatment and his condition has improved. There is hope for Commie with a positive outlook for the future. Kafui and Commie’s story is one of so many that personify why we do what we do and why your support is so vital.

Distance to hospital is one of the obvious challenges families face but the cost is treatment is another. I had various conversations with people on my trip to find out the cost of chemotherapy and found it varies depending on which drug is being used and in which quantities. The chemotherapy could be as little as £20 per unit or several hundred depending upon the dosage and strength. I was told that the average non-skilled worker only earns £200 a month which really puts into context why many parents struggle to pay for their child’s treatment.”

“My first visit to Kumasi allowed me to see so many of the challenges the families we support face first-hand, but it was also incredibly inspiring. It showed me that the work World Child Cancer supports is making tangible difference for so many families already and next up was a visit to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.”

Read the second part of James' blog here