Maaria lives with her two children and husband, who is unemployed, about four hours travel from Accra, the capital of Ghana. For the last year she has been living away from home with her five year old son Obasi who is being treated for eye cancer.
It is almost a year and a half since Obasi started to complain that he couldn’t see out of his left eye. Maaria was very concerned, so took him to see a doctor at the local hospital. The doctor said that he didn’t see anything wrong, but prescribed some eye drops and sent Obasi home. These didn’t seem to do anything so she also consulted the local spiritualist healer who in turn gave her other remedies.
A few months later Obasi was still complaining about his eye and that he couldn’t read or write at school, so Maaria took him back to the hospital where he was referred to another hospital in the region. Following tests and about a month of waiting for the results, they still didn’t know what was wrong with Obasi, so referred him to Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.
At Korle Bu, Obasi was diagnosed with eye cancer which had already spread to his nose and mouth. Within a week of being admitted he became very poorly with swelling in his eye, head and mouth which caused some of his teeth to fall out. Maaria remembers this as a very ‘dark time’ when she couldn’t stop crying – she slept next to Obasi’s bed on the children’s ward and prayed with other parents for strength.
The treatment needed to give Obasi a chance of survival was intensive chemotherapy and surgery to remove the tumour in his eye and around his nose. The cost of this treatment has been crippling for the family and they have had to sell their small shop and their land. Maaria is worried that when she does eventually go home, she won’t have a business and will need to find work washing for other families to support her family.
Maaria is devastated that Obasi’s eye had to be removed and finds it difficult to explain to him why it has happened.
Maaria takes great comfort in the support of the other families who have children on the ward. They share experiences and help those who have just arrived to have hope – just as they helped her when she first arrived. She is also thankful that the team at Korle Bu were able to help her son, as she feels failed by the local spiritualists who took her money and the local hospitals who she believes delayed treatment for Obasi. She wants to tell other parents to ‘be careful with your children’ and to spread the word about cancer in children and how important it is that they don’t leave it too late.
In Ghana, World Child Cancer provides an annual grant to help families who can’t pay for their treatment and need other financial support such as living costs and travel to visit their families. This is administered by the local healthcare team who decide how best to distribute the funds between those with the most need. We also support the work of the team at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, in Kumasi by raising funds to improve their facilities and facilitating training for healthcare staff to enable them to improve the diagnosis and care for children with cancer.