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A group of medics and scientists from Newcastle University are helping to save the lives of hundreds of children in one of the world's poorest countries, thanks to a charity they founded.

‘Children with Cancer in Malawi’ aims to improve the provision of cancer care in the sub-Saharan African state, and was set up by academics from the children’s cancer team at the Northern Institute for Cancer Research.

As well as providing essential chemotherapy and equipment, the charity has so far been able to fund two nurses who help with treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in the city of Blantyre. It has also provided funds to build a shelter for patients to wait in and an essential motorbike for a clinical assistant to go out to villages to check up on the progress of patients after they have been discharged.

Because of the huge problems the country faces with malnutrition and AIDs, cancer is not a priority for the Government. The total healthcare budget for the country is only £9 per person per year, compared with £1,500 per person per year in the UK.

Burkitts lymphoma (a type of cancer of the lymph glands), is the commonest form of cancer in Malawi, and thanks to help from Children with Cancer in Malawi and British doctor Professor Elizabeth Molyneux (OBE), who has been working in the country for the past 30 years, survival rates are now up to 50%, just over half the UK rate. But much more could be done. It only costs £40 to treat a patient for Burkitts lymphoma in Malawi, compared with £50,000 in the UK. Small donations can make a big difference.

With extra money the team hope to increase the range of cancers they can treat.

Child cancer expert Simon Bailey, of Newcastle University, said: “We can help to make a real difference out there and feel we have done so already. The main problems facing the country are AIDs and malnutrition, which means that, understandably, cancer gets left with very little resource.

“They have been treating some other common types of cancer, including kidney and eye tumours, and have just started treating leukaemia using a protocol designed in Newcastle. The drugs and the nurses have been invaluable, as has the motorbike. It can take people days to get to the hospital, so without someone going out to the villages there would be no way to keep a check on the patients that are discharged. The roads are mainly dirt tracks.

“We have had success so far, and it is unrealistic to expect similar survival rates to the UK but we could do even better with just a little bit more money.”

Simon’s colleague Steve Clifford, said: “It’s so different from what we have here. Parents of the patients have to sleep underneath their beds because there is no room, and they help with the cooking and the cleaning.  Our staff working in Malawi are amazing - everyone is so friendly and hard working. But they need extra support and resources.

“The wards are just so crowded that there is a massive problem with infection.

“It is a very rural country and the children are needed to work on the farms so their cancers are often very far developed by the time they are seen.

“It has been so rewarding to see the difference we have been able to make and put some smiles back on faces, but I just wish we could do more.”

For more information on the charity, to make a one off donation or to pledge a regular amount every month, just go to the website at www.childrenscancermalawi.org

CASE STUDY

One of the patients whose life has been saved thanks to the work of the charity is 11 year old Chimwemwe.

About two months before he was admitted to the hospital he suffered pain in his right eye. His mother had taken him to the nearest health centre – an hour’s walk away. There he was given four paracetamol tablets.  Later he was given some herbal treatments.

Chimwemwe began to have problem with the vision in his right eye and so his mother took him back to the health centre.  From there he was eventually sent to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Blantyre.

He had 4 cycles of chemotherapy and started to get better. The swelling reduced and vision returned to normal. He missed his family and was very excited when he finally went home after 40 days in the ward.

After one month he was doing well. He has no evidence of spread of the tumor and will be followed up for a year before he is discharged.

 

published on: 24th August 2011

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