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

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Archive for November, 2014

A trip to Sabongari

Last June we were warned by Prof Tih, Director of the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Board not to travel to Sabongari on the Nigerian border.

We wanted to visit our newest parent group. “You will be two white faces in the market place ” he said ” and there is a risk of kidnap”. The threat from Boko Haram has receded, but the Cameroon/Nigerian border remains officially closed because of ebola! It remains a very porous border as you can imagine with thousands of footpaths through the forest and bush.

We visited Sabongari today – not to see our parent group who were fully engaged with Sunday (church) activities but to call on a lone doctor at Sabongari Catholic hospital who has referred 5 patients to us in the last year. Sabongari is in a deep, fertile, malarial valley and is clearly quite a hot spot for Burkitt’s lymphoma. The lone doctor, a francophone Congolese called Alain Say told us that he came there for two weeks – and has stayed for 2 years such is the medical need. He said that prior to contact with our work at Banso Baptist Hospital his child cancer patients all died: he had no drugs and the parents were too poor to travel elsewhere (the terrain is difficult). At Banso we have the drugs and our small charity (BTMAT) will pay for in patient treatment. Prof Hesseling’s parent support programme assists with transport.

I was impressed by the dedication of this lone doctor – such a privilege to be able to help a man like this. He has very few medical visitors and Prof Hesseling was able to give expert advice and help with two sick children.


The mother who didn’t know

One of the things that I enjoy most about these Cameroonian trips is follow-up visits to children in their homes in the bush. It is fun searching for a child with only the village name as his or her address and when we do find a child we are usually welcomed by the whole village.

Our follow-up rate to one year from the beginning of treatment is 96%, an amazing achievement for sub Saharan Africa. It is essential to know outcomes so that we can further improve treatment.

The highlight of our last 48 hours at Mutengene was a visit to the home of a child treated 5 and a half years ago for Burkitt’s lymphoma. Celine, now a young woman aged 14 and a half is happy and healthy. Her mother welcomed us (Prof Hesseling, nurse Patience Nfor and myself) with great warmth and stated that Celine had suffered no real illness since her admission to Mutengene Baptist hospital nearly 6 years ago. However it rapidly became clear that her mother had no idea of the diagnosis (cancer) or its gravity. Celine had been brought to the hospital by her father and it appears that he had not told his wife about the diagnosis or chemotherapy – despite lengthy counselling from our team. We explained very carefully what had happened and she replied, “I thank God, I thank God”.

We have treated over 1000 children with Burkitt’s lymphoma since our treatment programme began in 2005. This home visit was part of a “long term” follow-up study launched this year and already well on the way to completion. We aim to contact this year all those who are still living. This study will provide invaluable information about the effectiveness of our treatment protocol and any long term sequelae of chemotherapy.


A brief summary of the collaborative Wilms’ tumour project

  • Wilms’ tumour is a childhood cancer of the kidney.
  • This tumour can be treated in Low Income Countries.
  • SIOP is the International Society of Paediatric Oncology.
  • PODC stands for Paediatric Oncology in Developing Countries,
    and is a subgroup of SIOP.

This project comprises 5 African countries as seen on this poster, the aim of the project is to achieve uniform treatment guidelines and outcome evaluation, in all the collaborating countries.

We aim to increase the survival from Wilms’ tumour to 50%, and reduce the death rate and abandonment of treatment, to less than 10%.

Enrolment of patients started in January 2014.

We are really privileged that the 3 Cameroonian Baptist hospitals are involved in this international project.

This poster was presented at the recent SIOP Conference in Toronto.

I am pleased to say that the Poster won the prize for best poster in this category.

Again we want to appreciate the BTMAT for their support to treat these children. We also appreciate the input of World Child Cancer.

Dr Kouya Francine
Supervisor of Paediatric Oncology
Mbingo Baptist Hospital
NW Region