Turning tragedy into triumph is not an easy thing to do, but that is exactly what one woman intends to do with the Kayula Childhood Cancer Foundation (KCCF).
|KCCF Excutive Director Mumba Sata|
Kayula was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma at age three and died 15 months later. The disease is common among children below age five.
"It was a traumatic time. She was limping and had an extended stomach. We saw various doctors to find out what was wrong. By the time the diagnostic was made, the cancer was in stage four, meaning it was very much advanced.
She underwent chemotherapy, which was later followed by an operation but not even that was enough to save her,” narrated Mrs Sata at a media breakfast held at Lusaka’s Intercontinental Hotel to launch a campaign which aims to increase awareness on childhood cancers.
Mumba believes that had Kayula been diagnosed early, she would still have been alive today. With the foundation, she is determined to see to it that the number of children dying from cancer is reduced.
The foundation plans to build a pediatric oncology hospital with a multi-specialty laboratory, and also build and maintain a transit home for patients and their guardians awaiting further medical attention or those discharged from hospital but were still waiting to find finances to get back to their respective places.
The Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) located at the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) is the only health institution in the country offering treatment for cancer and provides both outpatient and in-patient care. CDH admits on average 15 to 20 paediatric patients per month from different parts of the country.
UTH senior registrar at the Hematology- Oncology unit, Dr Catherine Chunda said cancer is the most common cause of death in children in the developed countries.
|Dr Catherine Chunda|
But while survival rates in cancer patients in developed countries have gone up to more than 75 percent, with the United States at 80 percent, results in developing countries have not been so impressive.
Dr Chunda explained that “the problem we have in developing countries, including here in Zambia is that cancer is diagnosed in its advanced stage. In cases where it’s diagnosed early, failure to start or complete treatment has been a large contributor to many of the deaths being experienced in all these countries."
She said abandonment and refusal of treatment is the commonest cause of cancer treatment failure in developing countries. Zambia has 45 percent abandonment and mortality rates.
Other challenges hindering proper management of Cancer in developing countries are lack of diagnostic and treatment facilities. This is in addition to inadequate hospital infrastructure and medications. The presence of malnutrition in some of the children diagnosed with the disease is also a contributor.
Dr Chunda advised that recognition of childhood cancer requires; “early recognition of symptoms, rapid referral and access to primary medical care. Rapid referral and access to specialist care, data management infrastructure because in many cases a child with cancer may die before diagnosis and registration.”
According to a 2010 study by Dr Chunda and Cancer expert Professor Chintu, the most common Cancer tumours in Zambia are Lymphomas, Retinoblastoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma, and Nephroblastoma.
In 2011 and 2012, CDH recorded 566 and 361 cases of children with cancer. The hospital has only six permanent staff, three nurses and three doctors.
|Mrs Sata with journalists Brenda Zulu and Ruth Banda|
Ministry of Health Permanent secretary Dr Peter Mwaba said to meet the demands of shortage of staff and also the shortfall of equipment at the centre; government was currently training 15 radiologists and had procured four Computed Tomography (CT) scans to be installed in hospital in Kitwe, Ndola, Livingstone and Lusaka.
He announced that 60 bed spaces out of the 200 being built at the new cancer diseases would be allocated to children with cancer.
“But the onus should not only be on government, we need community participation and mobilization if we are to fight this disease. Parents, stakeholders all need to come on board and ensure that every child has a chance to lead a normal and healthy life.” PYM.