Dr Emmauella Amoako (known as Ella) works as a paediatrician in Cape Coast in the Central region of Ghana. She graduated from Lughansk State medical university, Ukraine in 2012. During her paediatric residency at Korle-Bu teaching hospital in Accra, Ella received training in paediatric oncology; a placement that made a lasting impact.
Why I became a paediatrician
“Honestly, when I was growing up, being a doctor was not part of the plan. I’d dreamt of becoming a pilot because the sky seemed so limitless and free. However, my dad worked as a doctor for the Basel mission in Cameroon and as time went on, I started admiring the art of medicine and appreciating the work he did. I was especially moved by the life-changing impact that he had on the lives of his patients and their families and saw that medicine was a powerful way that I could give back to society and help the vulnerable in my community.
You see, children don’t pretend. They may not be able to express what exactly is wrong, but you would know when a child is sick. Children are very resilient; I have seen children so sick and then bouncing back the following day like nothing happened. Also, taking care of a child means watch them grow and if you are lucky, you may get to see their children too. The old cliché that children are our future is so true.
I received some paediatric oncology training with Professor Lorna Renner and Dr Cathy Segbefia at Korle-Bu teaching hospital in Accra during my paediatric residency. The rotation was only a few months but made a lasting impact on how I saw things.
The challenges of treating children with cancer in Ghana
Previously, Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and the Komfo Anokye Teaching hospital were the only centres that could treat children with cancer. This meant that children from the Central and Western regions of Ghana, also had to travel all the way to these centres to receive treatment; a journey that could take ten hours.
We know first-hand from our work, but also from recent research, that the burden of childhood cancers in Ghana is unacceptably high although treatment has been shown to be highly cost-effective. Only about 7% of children in Ghana in need of paediatric surgery for conditions such as childhood cancers, receive the surgery they need.
Since November 2019, I have been able to use my expertise to set up a childhood cancer satellite unit at the Cape Coast Teaching Hospital (CCTH), under the guidance of Prof Renner, Dr Segbefia and Dr Salifu as part of World Child Cancer’s shared care programme. I also discuss and share ideas with my colleague who is in fellowship training; Dr Lily Tagoe.
The Childhood Cancer unit here, however, is not fully established. Myself and my colleagues at CCTH do well to manage the cases that come to us. At the moment we can treat some solid tumours and tend to refer the blood malignancies and other solid tumours to the Korle-Bu teaching Hospital. The dream is to be able to treat all childhood cancers here. This would help reduce the burden on other treatment centres and journey time for patients to treatment centres.
I’ve observed that medical and non-medical (food, transportation and lodging) costs for cancer treatment and care is one of the biggest barriers to patients receiving care even when care is available. World Child Cancer has played an important role in providing families with financial support for transport,and also diagnostic and treatment costs. This support allows parents to continue bringing their children to the hospital for chemotherapy, reducing the rates of treatment abandonment and giving them the best chance of a happy and healthy future.
The impact of Covid-19 on childhood cancer services
There are fewer staff available to treat other conditions; as some work at treatment centres for Covid-19.
Parents have also understandably become more fearful of bringing their children into the hospital, as they worry about the risk of being infected with the coronavirus on crowded public transport, or in the hospital itself. It is deeply concerning to think that there are many children who will not receive a diagnosis, or whose diagnosis will come very late because of the pandemic.
In the future I would like to see a greater number of doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners be given access to specialist training so that more children with cancer can receive the treatment and care that they need. I would also like to raise awareness of childhood cancers among the public.
When a parent is told their child has cancer, they often feel hopeless and for many of them, a trip to a big hospital can be extremely daunting. But one thing I want people to know is that with the right treatment and support, childhood cancers are curable."
Our vision is a world where every child with cancer has equal access to the best treatment and care and is able to realise their potential. By 2023 we want to double our impact, allowing over 10,000 children a year to access improved childhood cancer services. Will you join us?