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

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BTMAT, COVID 19 and children’s cancer treatment

We receive monthly reports of clinical activity (and costs) at our 4 Cameroonian Baptist hospitals. Whilst in-patient and out-patient numbers at Banso Baptist Hospital, where our children’s cancer treatment programme began, have been severely reduced by civil unrest activity at our main site, Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH) remains high. Our purpose designed children’s cancer treatment ward and our “We Care” parent hostel are rarely less than full. Activity at our new treatment centre at Mboppi Baptist Hospital in Douala in the francophone South more than compensates for the reduction at Banso in the N.W.

There have been about 1000 confirmed COVID 19 cases in Cameroon (mid-April, 2020), mostly around Yaounde, the capital, and in the South. The N.W. is not badly affected at the time of writing, but our colleagues in the Baptist hospitals have taken precautionary measures. Morning assemblies which are the centre of administration and fellowship have been stopped. Isolation of suspected cases is possible in our children’s cancer ward. There is a lot more hand washing on the wards and in out-patients!

Children singing at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Nov. 2019. Gracious and Prof Hesseling on the right

Children singing at Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Nov. 2019. Gracious and Prof Hesseling on the right

Our colleagues at MBH have appointed a teacher for the children in the ward and those staying in our parent hostel (“We Care“ home). Her name is Gracious. During my last visit with Prof Hesseling in November 2019 Gracious asked the children to sing for us: they sang beautifully. One little child held up a placard saying, “Thank you, Dr Paul”. I do not merit any thanks. The vision for the children’s cancer treatment programme was Dr Peter McCormick’s and the expert “how to do it” knowledge of cancer treatment in a resource-limited African setting was Prof Peter Hesseling’s. We have treated approximately 1500 children with Burkitt’s lymphoma, the common cancer, with a >55% long term survival*. This cancer is uniformly fatal in a few months without treatment – and so this equates to a big schoolful of children who are alive today because of the treatment programme and the dedication of our Cameroonian colleagues, doctors and nurses.

*Hesseling PB, Kouya F, Mbah G, Wharin P, McCormick P. et al. (2015) Burkitt lymphoma: long term outcome in 738 patients treated in rural Cameroon from 2003 to 2013: Pediatric Blood and Cancer 62: S156

Paul Wharin, April 2020


Nineteen years ago, a little girl was involved in a terrible traffic accident in Kumbo. She lost her mother and younger brother in it. She was brought to Banso Baptist Hospital having sustained fractures of both femurs. Her name was Nina and she was 8 years old.

She remembers me working on Children’s ward, and the bandana I sported about my head at that time. She remembers I brought her presents, and that I gave her a Certificate of Bravery. This award also came with a small badge, stating ‘I was very brave for the doctor’. So the Certificate could be stuck to the bed head, and the badge on the pyjama top. This was an idea of mine designed to produce dignity and pride in our child patients. So popular was it, that adult staff from all hospital departments came to me saying that they had been brave for the doctor today, and could they please have a Certificate!

Sad to say, I don’t actually remember Nina – one of hundreds of kids I saw in my years visiting BBH. Quite recently, out of the blue, Nina got in touch with me. She is now 28, and married with a small daughter, and she is a doctor working at Mbingo Hospital. What a tremendous sequel to a traumatic childhood! She said that during her time in BBH she became inspired to be a doctor herself.

One day Dr Nina plans to visit me in Warkton. I will have to dig out an old bandana for the occasion!

Nina, age 8, being treated in Banso hospital

Nina, age 8, being treated in Banso hospital

Nina at Mbingo Hospital, where she is now a doctor

Peter McCormick, Feb. 2019

BTMAT launch new cancer treatment programme in Douala

Some readers may be aware of the political unrest in Cameroon which amounts to civil war in the North West. The anglophone secessionists have imposed “ghost Mondays” in which all public transport by taxi or motorbike is blocked by armed men.

This is severely curtailing our work at Banso Baptist Hospital in the far north-west, but new admissions at our main centre, Mbingo Baptist Hospital (MBH), remain high. On my recent visit to Mbingo I found our new eight-bed paediatric oncology ward fully occupied, as were the eight beds in the We Care hostel to which patient and guardian may go between chemotherapies. The system is working efficiently and at full capacity thanks to the dedication of paediatric oncology supervisor Dr Francine Kouya and our superb nursing team at Mbingo Baptist Hospital.

Sister Comfort Kimbi and the new paediatric oncology ward at MBH. This photo does not show the nursing station, isolation room, treatment room and counselling room - all purpose-designed

Sister Comfort Kimbi and the new paediatric oncology ward at MBH. This photo does not show the nursing station, isolation room, treatment room and counselling room – all purpose-designed

In part to compensate for the loss of activity in the far north-west we have launched a new cancer treatment programme at Mboppi Baptist Hospital in Douala, Cameroon’s most populous city. It is in the francophone south and not directly affected by political unrest. Children with cancer at this hospital were previously referred to one of our other centres, west to Mutengene or north to Mbingo. Two weeks ago an inaugural symposium with teaching by colleagues from Leeds General Infirmary childrens cancer treatment unit was eagerly attended by doctors and staff from Mboppi.

We will begin slowly and carefully treating children with Burkitt’s lymphoma and retinoblastoma only, but this busy hospital is likely to become our main centre of treatment in the South. BTMAT will fund treatment of children on the same basis as at the other Baptist hospitals – covering drug costs and individual hospital bills. This ensures that any mother reaching the hospital with a child with cancer will not be deterred by the prospect of a bill (even though very small by our standards) – but it does mean that our BTMAT trustees are facing the financial challenge of an enlarging programme.

With your help we will rise to the challenge!

Dr Paul Wharin, Feb. 2019

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.