We now have treatment programmes at the 3 Baptist hospitals of Western Cameroon for four child cancers: Burkitt’s lymphoma, the most common cancer and Wilms tumour (protocols designed by Prof P.Hesseling) and also more recently retinoblastoma and Kaposi sarcoma. BTMAT supplies the drugs and pays the in-patient treatment costs of these children.
Of equal importance to the hospital treatment programmes is outreach to the rural community where there is little or no concept of “cancer”. We have explained before that children are often taken first to the village practitioner (bush doctor) who will usually make the diagnosis of “witchcraft”, this being considered HIS area of expertise. The child may never reach one of our hospitals or will present with very advanced disease.
Our research assistant nurses (RANs) play a major role in education and outreach to the community. They regularly visit village clinics to teach medical staff who may have little knowledge of the early signs of cancer. This is particularly important for retinoblastoma, the eye cancer where the early signs (an opaque pupil or new squint) are easily recognised and prompt treatment may save the child’s sight – not only their life! Our nurses often find a captive audience of waiting patients and speak to them in pidgin English. They have visited and respectfully addressed village practitioners. Local church and regional denominational meetings especially women’s meetings have provided opportunities to teach on child cancer. Talks have been broadcast on local radio on World Child Cancer Day, 2013 and 2014.
The RANs take every opportunity to make known the availability of our child cancer treatment programmes and also the early warning signs of child cancer. Our message (in pidgin) is:
“This sick be not witchcraft: take pekin for Baptist hospital”