Give hope to children with cancer

Childhood cancer can occur in children as early as from birth to about 18 years. 

A vast majority of childhood cancers do not have known causes but can be treated and cured.

Thanks to advancement in therapies, childhood cancers are mostly curable when diagnosed early with effective anticancer treatment and supportive care.

Although experts estimate that childhood cancers are completely curable in 85 per cent of cases in well-resourced countries, sad to say, it is not the case in Ghana.

Experts say, generally, a third of the children diagnosed die before or soon after treatment starts; another third start treatment but later abandon treatment due to the huge financial burden involved, and a further third are able to complete treatment.

A summary of the state of childhood cancer care indicates that “whereas 80 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer in the USA, for instance, would go on to survive, 70 per cent of such children with same cancers will die in Ghana.”

Treatment of childhood cancer puts a huge financial burden on families.

For instance, in Ghana, the average expenditure for treating childhood cancer is about $1,000.

In the treatment of leukaemia, it can reach as high as $7,000 for up to three years.

This is far beyond the means of many average citizens and it is estimated that about 50 per cent of patients abandon treatment halfway due to the lack of funds.

Families of children with cancer have to pay out of the pocket for all services related to childhood cancer treatment, including consultations, out and inpatient services, laboratory services, anticancer treatment and some supportive care, which are expensive and place a huge financial burden on them.

Thus, for many years, the government has been urged to put childhood cancers on the benefit packages of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to cover for the treatment of children with cancer because the families simply could not afford to pay out of pocket for all the services related to treatment and eventually abandoned treatment.

Also, it was discriminatory and against the human rights of a child not to receive the best health care.

The good news is that on November 16, 2021, the First Lady, Rebecca Akufo-Addo, officially announced the absorption of childhood cancer onto the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) benefit package during the launch of the 2021 NHIS Week celebration.

The benefit covers the diagnosis and treatment of four childhood cancers: Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, Burkitt Lymphoma, Retinoblastoma and Wilms Tumour.

These four constitute approximately 60 per cent of all childhood cancers and are highly curable if detected early.

The NHIS has covered the bills of 226 child cancer patients since June 2022 after the addition of four childhood cancers to the list of ailments covered under the national health financing scheme.

The scheme made reimbursements of about GH¢250,000, making up GH¢143,143 in 2022 and GH¢100,937 this year.

The Daily Graphic commends the Ministry of Health, the National Health Insurance Authority and the government for heeding the call to add childhood cancers to health insurance coverage.

Since between 1,000 and 1,400 childhood cancers are diagnosed in Ghana annually, we call for an improved cancer awareness among the populace, especially parents and caregivers, so that they would know the early warning signs and seek early treatment for their children and wards.

The inability to detect the signs early and seek the right treatment causes problems.

The Head of the Paediatric Oncology Unit of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Professor Lorna Awo Renner, once said that 80 per cent of childhood cancers were curable. “But this is dependent on early detection and progressive treatment.”

Furthermore, the Daily Graphic calls for an improved cancer treatment outcome of a higher survival rate through the training and re-training of medical personnel on latest treatment options.

The paper believes that it is time the country got a functional population-based cancer registry so that data on children who are affected by the disease yearly can be obtained for planning purposes.

It is important for the larger population to also know the early signs and symptoms of childhood cancers and assist parents to report quickly to health facilities for the necessary diagnosis and treatment to begin.

Childhood cancer is curable; let us give hope and a future to children with such conditions.

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