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

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Archive for July, 2013

SAJOCAH – a new partnership?

SAJOCAH is the acronym of Saint Joseph’s Children and Adults Home. It is a Catholic Rehabilitation Centre situated at Bafut, a small town in N.W.Cameroon about 40 miles from Mbingo Baptist Hospital.

About 10% of our children with Burkitt’s lymphoma present with paraplegia (weakness or full paralysis of the lower limbs) due to a tumour pressing on the spinal cord. Burkitt’s lymphoma is a “soft” tumour which simply DISSOLVES with chemotherapy: we can relieve pressure on the spinal cord with a single bolus (dose) of anticancer drug. Power will begin to return to the limbs within 24 hours – this is wonderful to see. However, if the weakness or paralysis has been present for over 3 weeks damage to the spinal cord may be permanent: we can cure the cancer but the

neurological damage causing weakness and paralysis (plus/minus incontinence) remains.

In May 2013 Professor Hesseling, Glenn Mbah (research assistant nurse, BBH), Joel Kaah (motorbike palliative care nurse, BBH) and I visited SAJOCAH. We were given the warmest hospitality by the senior sister (Sister Victorine) and her staff. We saw the workshops where staff (mainly ex-patients) make callipers, braces and artificial limbs. We met Dutch physios who give expert supervision. We learnt of their “training” programmes for children with urinary or faecal incontinence. I gained the impression that the sisters were giving long term care to a few children with multiple handicaps who had been abandoned by their families.

We have referred our first patient to SAJOCAH, a young boy cured of Burkitt’s lymphoma but with residual spasticity of his legs.

We hope that this will be the start of a new partnership – for the sake of children in Cameroon.


Patient working with cane at SAJOCAH

Paul Wharin (July 2013)

A new initiative: the Palliative Care Motorbike Nurse

Palliative care is the Cinderella service of African medicine. One reason for this is that it generates little income for the hospitals. The planners/administrators therefore tend to focus on those services that provide some financial return particularly the out-patient department.

Last November our research assistant nurse at Banso Baptist Hospital, Glenn Mbah surveyed the addresses of those children receiving palliative care for cancer. He found that the majority live way out in the bush beyond range of the 4-wheel drive vehicle used by the hospital palliative care team. We know that a trained palliative care nurse on a motorbike can travel further and faster and along narrow tracks which would prohibit a 4 –wheel drive vehicle.

In December 2012 the CMO and senior nursing officer at Banso Baptist Hospital

appointed a male nurse for training in palliative care. His name is Mr Joel Kaah Nkofon. He will be our first motorbike palliative care nurse. Prof Hesseling purchased the motorbike, a Galaxy Golden Eagle and BTMAT has undertaken to pay Joel’s salary.

This is an exciting new venture which will bring compassionate care to those children that we cannot cure. One of our colleagues who has worked at Banso Baptist Hospital in the past, Dr Mona Tamannai will carefully assess the changes (hopefully improvements) in quality of life for these children AND their parents later this year. This is not easy to do, but we must look critically at any new service – not least as good stewards of the money that you give to us.

Joel and the palliative care motorbike


Dr Paul Wharin (July 2013)

Breastmilk banking… again

Being long-in-the tooth, past my sell-by date, wrestling with backache and prostate symptoms, I had decided not to go to Cameroon again.

Notwithstanding stout resolve, I went again on July 2nd 2013, with our two BTMAT Scholars, Rebecca and Abigail. Along with nurse Vera (who had been house guest of Alan and myself) we all four travelled on the same flight. The ladies were my ‘carers’ as I was for the 15th time, a wheelchair passenger. We carried in our baggage many essential drugs for the child cancer projects, and other gifts for that work.

My own one week in Cameroon was first; to introduce Abigail and Rebecca to our colleagues at Banso Baptist Hospital, where they were to be based for the two week  duration of their research project for our Trust. Second; I was at BBH to chair a meeting about Breastmilk banking. My visit to Seattle earlier this year, as the Cameroonian delegate at an international Breastmilk bank conference, had thrown up several issues which I felt ought to be addressed in relation to our own banks in Cameroon. The prestigious Group aimed at getting all banks everywhere (500 globally) to be doing the same things – within the confines and restrictions of their own situation.

Nineteen staff members, from 4 hospitals – where BTMAT had installed Breastmilk banks – were present on July 6th at BBH. Those attending included the Administrator of BBH, the Chief Medical Officer of BBH, midwives, Pasteurisers, microbiologists, and the Chief of Laboratory Services for the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board. Pasteurisers also came from our other two Baptist hospitals, and from the Regional Hospital Bamenda. We reviewed what had been achieved in the past 10 years, and conferred about what might yet be possible. Questions arose; consensus achieved; progress made.

We have given donated pasteurised breastmilk to around 4,000 fragile newborn babies in the past 10 years. About 1,800 litres of donated milk have been collected and processed. The recipient babies have had the best start to a precarious life; not one has had any illness attributable to the donated milk. We can make our process even better by post-pasteurisation testing and by more rigorous record keeping. This we will do; everyone at the meeting was enthusiastic to start the new improved programme.

A Pub near home likes to display proverbs. Here is one I spotted recently:

‘Some people want it to happen,
Some people wish it would happen,
Some people make it happen’.

BTMAT is in the third category, both for treating child cancer, and for care of the newborn by breastmilk banking.



Breastmilk banking

Breastmilk banking