BTMAT, COVID 19 and children’s cancer treatment

We receive monthly reports of clinical activity (and costs) at our 4 Cameroonian Baptist hospitals. Whilst in-patient and out-patient numbers at Banso Baptist Hospital, where our children’s cancer treatment programme began, have been severely reduced by civil unrest activity at our main site, Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) remains high. Our purpose designed children’s cancer treatment ward and our “We Care” parent hostel are rarely less than full. Activity at our new treatment centre at Mboppi Baptist Hospital in Douala in the francophone South more than compensates for the reduction at Banso in the N.W.

There have been about 1000 confirmed COVID 19 cases in Cameroon (mid-April, 2020), mostly around Yaounde, the capital, and in the South. The N.W. is not badly affected at the time of writing, but our colleagues in the Baptist hospitals have taken precautionary measures. Morning assemblies which are the centre of administration and fellowship have been stopped. Isolation of suspected cases is possible in our children’s cancer ward. There is a lot more hand washing on the wards and in out-patients!

Children singing at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Nov. 2019. Gracious and Prof Hesseling on the right

Children singing at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Nov. 2019. Gracious and Prof Hesseling on the right

Our colleagues at MBH have appointed a teacher for the children in the ward and those staying in our parent hostel (“We Care“ home). Her name is Gracious. During my last visit with Prof Hesseling in November 2019 Gracious asked the children to sing for us: they sang beautifully. One little child held up a placard saying, “Thank you, Dr Paul”. I do not merit any thanks. The vision for the children’s cancer treatment programme was Dr Peter McCormick’s and the expert “how to do it” knowledge of cancer treatment in a resource-limited African setting was Prof Peter Hesseling’s. We have treated approximately 1500 children with Burkitt’s lymphoma, the common cancer, with a >55% long term survival*. This cancer is uniformly fatal in a few months without treatment – and so this equates to a big schoolful of children who are alive today because of the treatment programme and the dedication of our Cameroonian colleagues, doctors and nurses.

*Hesseling PB, Kouya F, Mbah G, Wharin P, McCormick P. et al. (2015) Burkitt lymphoma: long term outcome in 738 patients treated in rural Cameroon from 2003 to 2013: Pediatric Blood and Cancer 62: S156

Paul Wharin, April 2020

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