Sadly, not every story from Africa has a happy ending; especially in dealing with child cancer. The following events happened earlier in 2011.
Trustee Dr Paul Wharin received an email whilst he was in Cameroon, from colleagues at a small mission hospital in Tchad – to the north of Cameroon. They had received a child with Burkitt’s lymphoma, but their hospital had not the power to investigate or treat the child. Paul advised they sent the child at once to Banso Baptist Hospital, Cameroon – the most northerly of our hospitals. Travel would be by road; a miserably long, hot journey, in crowded minibuses, punctuated by armed gendarmes and road blocks. For reasons which escaped us, the child eventually arrived at the southernmost of our hospitals – Baptist Hospital Mutengene – a good 200 miles further on than Banso Baptist Hospital. The child’s tumour had in the meantime grown hugely, and was obstructing his breathing. On admission he was in extremis, and though our competent and conscientious doctor at BHM commenced the necessary preliminaries of treatment at once, the child died the next morning.
The difficulties at the time of admission were compounded by the fact that language barriers hindered progress. Dr Edouard telephoned a contact in Yaounde – the capital – to get translation done over the phone.
A further sadness was that the carer who brought the child – a Muslim lady, not a parent – absconded, leaving the corpse at the hospital. This is not a rare event; security men at hospital gates have not only to keep unwanted people out, but to keep potential absconders in; especially those who have left dead relatives behind, or are attempting to avoid the hospital bill.
The local Imam was contacted, and he arranged for the dead child’s body to be removed.
We have lessons to learn from this tragedy. Communications, language, religion, culture, and travel all have to be considered; and quickly, for Burkitt’s lymphoma cannot wait.