Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust: supporting African children that suffer from Burkitt lymphoma cancer

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2017: a year of change, part 2

2017 also marked the opening at Mutengene Baptist Hospital of 2 small wards converted specifically for the treatment of children with cancer.

Our tiny (extremely cramped) ward at the main treatment centre, Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) is being extended and transformed at this moment into a purpose designed childrens cancer treatment unit.  7 years ago we (BTMAT) had a firm promise of funding for this development from Kettering Huxloe Rotary – but lost this when the fund-raising schedule of Kettering Rotary could not be coordinated with the MBH strategic building plan. Now with funding via World Child Cancer (WCC) building is underway – but again we almost missed the deadline for receipt of a major grant!

On our May 2017 visit Prof Hesseling and I were joined by two doctors and the lead nurse, Rachel Hollis, from Leeds General Infirmary childrens cancer treatment unit.  We introduced them to Prof Pius Tih, Director of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Service (CBCHS) and they are now fully committed to the CBC childrens cancer treatment programme.  An agreement has been established at institutional level with Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust!  One of the Leeds doctors, Jessica Morgan first met Francine when visiting Banso Baptist Hospital as a medical student many years ago! The Leeds team have visited twice this year and will do the same in 2018. Prof Hesseling  can now take a more advisory role.  I remain a trustee of BTMAT and with my fellow BTMAT trustees  committed to the purchase or sourcing of chemotherapy drugs and to the payment of hospital bills of all children with cancer treated under our programme.  This ensures that parents are not faced with a bill that they cannot pay – and therefore that our children stay in hospital for a full course of treatment.

Children holding messages saying “Thanks to CBCHS/BTMAT/World Child Cancer”, May 2017

Paul Wharin, December  2017.

2017: a year of change, part 1

Our senior Cameroonian colleague, Dr Francine Kouya returned from Cape Town to Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) on May 2nd – after 2 years further training in childrens cancer medicine (paediatric oncology) at Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town.

Francine is now supervisor of paediatric oncology for the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Service (CBCHS). Our lead nurse, Glenn Mbah, completed an on-line Masters in Public Health at Roehampton, London – partly financed by Beryl Thyer Trust (BTMAT) – and has been appointed programme manager. Francine and Glenn are now in overall charge of the childrens cancer treatment programme at the 3 CBC hospitals. They will need our support as they attempt to treat an ever wider spectrum of cancers and the workload increases dramatically! We (BTMAT and World Child Cancer) have invested heavily in the further training of our Cameroonian colleagues especially our nurses – a sound investment for the future of paediatric oncology in Cameroon.

Our We Care Parent Home at MBH opened in May with a ceremony marked by much joyful prayer and thanksgiving. I was asked to join the senior administrator, Richard Nji in cutting one of the ribbons. There are traditional firewood kitchens for mothers in a separate block behind the hostel.  One of the hospital nutritionists calls weekly to teach mothers the nutritional value of local foodstuffs and how best to prepare them. We (BTMAT) have agreed to support the salary of a full-time primary school teacher for all the children (oncology ward and We Care home).  This parent home is a first for Cameroon and means that mothers who previously camped out in the hospital grounds now have a place to stay with their child between chemotherapies.  In pidgin English the name We Care translates “We de Lookout”.

Opening of the We Care home, May 2017: Glenn (3rd from left) and Dr Francine (4th from left).

Opening of the We Care home, May 2017: Glenn (3rd from left) and Dr Francine (4th from left).

Paul Wharin, December  2017.

“We Care” Parent Hostel, Mbingo Baptist Hospital, N.W.Cameroon

Many people have asked for an update on the “We Care” Parent home. The roof is on and windows and door frames about to be fitted.

It was last May whilst in Cameroon that I received an email from the Good News Evangelical Foundation granting £15000 towards the construction of this building. I showed the email to Joe Dixon, Programme Manager of the charity, World Child Cancer who immediately offered to match this. Our plan is now to make the “official” opening in May 2017. Mothers of children with cancer will no longer have to camp out in the hospital grounds but will have accommodation with their own separate firewood cooking facilities – African style. Children undergoing chemotherapy will be able to join mother between drug infusions thus reducing our bed occupancy and hopefully our hospital costs.

"We Care" Parent Hostel for mothers of children with cancer at MBH

“We Care” Parent Hostel for mothers of children with cancer at MBH

Paul Wharin, December 2016

“This sick be not witchcraft. Take pekin for Baptist Hospital”

So say members of our parent groups to the guardian of a child suffering from suspected cancer.

On the 18th November we travelled to Ntaba, a large village near the Nigerian border to visit one of our parent groups. The leader, Paul Tanwarong had invited a prominent local village practitioner/bush doctor (described by Paul as a “sorcerer”) to meet us. We asked questions about his practice and he told us that his most frequent diagnosis is “witchcraft”. Some of our Baptist medical colleagues will have nothing to do with these men but their “professional” organisation is recognised by the government and they are all men of standing in their communities, their “skills” being passed from father to son. We prefer to get alongside, to educate and show them that there is a better way – though we have to confess that we cannot always cure even with our “powerful” medicine. I asked him to please send any pekin (child) with “big face” or “big belly” to Banso Baptist Hospital.

At Ntaba village. In the centre: the village practitioner (red shirt), Prof Hesseling (with stick) and Paul Tanwarong

At Ntaba village. In the centre: the village practitioner (red shirt), Prof Hesseling (with stick) and Paul Tanwarong

Paul Wharin, December 2016

Retinoblastoma, the eye cancer

On our November 2016 visit to the three hospitals of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Service, Prof Peter Hesseling and I were accompanied by Prof Mariana Kruger, the present head of paediatrics and child health at Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Hospital, Cape Town.

Mariana is an expert on the eye cancer, retinoblastoma and is responsible for the protocol with which we have treated treated this cancer since 2013. At Mutengene Baptist Hospital, S.W.Cameroon we met a boy called Remond aged 18 months who was receiving chemotherapy for retinoblastoma.  Remond and his mother are pygmies from the Baka people of S.E.Cameroon. They are genetically one of the most ancient people groups in Africa, second only to the bushmen of the Kalahari. Remond was found by 2 Catholic sisters who had heard that treatment for this cancer was freely available at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, N.W.Cameroon. They arrived at Mbingo only to find that the ophthalmic surgeon was away and so came all the way south to Mutengene. Remond and his parents have little money even for food and are being supported by the congregation of a local Baptist church. The ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Emmanuel Tambe makes no charge for surgical treatment and our charity (BTMAT) freely provides chemotherapy drugs and pays in-patient treatment costs. I find this a remarkable story of Christian compassion at work – and of advocacy for our programme.  How did the Catholic sisters know about our work?

Prof Hesseling, Remond and his mother, Prof Kruger

Prof Hesseling, Remond and his mother, Prof Kruger

Paul Wharin, December 2016