Dr Hesseling has had a long and distinguished career as a paediatric oncologist in South Africa. Until his retirement in 2004, he was Professor of Paediatric and Child Health at Stellenbosch University and Tygerbeg Children’s Hospital in South Africa where he started the children’s cancer service in 1974. In addition to his work in South Africa, Dr Hesseling has had a long interest in improving treatment for children with cancer in resource-poor African countries.
He has been active in the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP) for many years, serving as the first African SIOP continental President and organising the inaugural SIOP African Continental meeting in 1994. It was at this meeting that the enormous differences in survival between children with cancer in western countries and poor developing nations became apparent. At the time, the cure rate for children diagnosed with Burkitts lymphoma, the most common childhood cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, was around 20% compared to over 75% in South Africa and western countries. Dr Hesseling was instrumental in drafting a resolution to attempt to develop affordable and effective treatment for Burkitts lymphoma.
His motto is “The golden standard of treatment for children with cancer in the developing world, is the best that you can achieve with the resources at your disposal”.
In 1976 Dr Hesseling established a cancer referral service to Tygerberg Hospital for children diagnosed with cancer in Namibia. This service is still in operation and Dr Hesseling is helping to build capacity in the treatment of children with cancer in Namibia further through his work advising World Child Cancer on the establishment of a dedicated child cancer service in Windhoek. In 1996 following the SIOP meeting two years previously, he initiated a Burkitts lymphoma treatment study in Malawi at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre and at Lilongwe Central Hospital. He has extended the Burkitts lymphoma protocol to three Baptist hospitals in Northwest and Southwest provinces of Cameroon. The studies in Cameroon and Malawi have led to the development of simple, low cost treatment strategies for Burkitts lymphoma that can be used in rural hospitals with a cure rate of over 60%. This was achieved by using old cancer drugs in a different way, and by matching the intensity of chemotherapy with the supportive care facilities that could be provided.
Dr Hesseling has published over 200 articles, abstracts and book chapters and is a regular speaker at medical conferences around the world. We are fortunate that someone of Dr Hesseling’s experience and expertise is a Medical Ambassador for BTMAT helping to identify projects and providing invaluable guidance and advice.