Put childhood cancers on NHIS

BY: Rebecca Kwei
Dr Lawrence Osei-Tutu
Dr Lawrence Osei-Tutu

Government has been called upon to include childhood cancers on the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) benefits package to reduce the financial burden on parents.

According to a Paediatric Oncologist of the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital (KATH) and the Agogo Presby Hospital (APH), Dr Lawrence Osei-Tutu, the cost of the treatment of cancers in children is so enormous that many families eventually abandon treatment  simply because they cannot pay  for all services related.

Dr Osei-Tutu said in an interview that it was discriminatory and against the human rights of a child not to receive the best healthcare.

He explained that it was strange that adults who had a smaller number of productive years to live should they survive cancer had some cancers included on the NHIS, while a seven- year-old child, for instance, who was cured of cancer could have at least 50 productive years to live.

“This is very discriminatory and does not speak well of Ghana, a country which boasts of being among the first to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1990. Article 24 of this convention clearly states that children have the right to good quality healthcare,” he added.

Dr Osei-Tutu explained that cancer is actually not a single disease but should be seen as a combination or group of related diseases which  occurs when the cells of the body multiply and grow uncontrollably.

He said in Ghana, there were different types of childhood cancers affecting various parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, blood, bones, kidneys, adding that the type, stage and duration of treatment all had implications on the cost of treatment of childhood cancers.

 Dr Ose-Tutu further explained that when childhood cancers were put on the NHIS, it would relieve the financial burden on parents and families and that could lead   to early diagnosis, prompt treatment and reduce cases where parents abandon treatment due to financial constraints.  

“Children will be able to complete their scheduled treatment and thus increase our chances of curing the disease which is 85 per cent  curable  when all resources including money are available,” he said.

Dr Osei-Tutu emphasised childhood cancer was curable in 85 per cent of cases in well-resourced countries but the reverse was the case in Ghana.

“For instance, whereas 80 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer in the USA would survive, 70 per cent of such children with same cancers will die in Ghana,” he explained .

 He said generally, a third of children who were diagnosed of cancer die before or soon after treatment was started. Another third start treatment but later abandon it due to the huge financial burden involved while the other  third were able to complete treatment.

Childhood cancer is any cancer which happens in children usually from as early as birth  to about 18 to 21 years.

The KATH Childhood Cancer Unit recorded 557 new childhood cancers cases between 2013 and 2017.

Out of this number, only 50 children are actively undergoing treatment, while 198 patients abandoned treatment.

Thirty-eight patients successfully completed treatment and three rejected treatment. Unfortunately, 268 patients died.

 In 2018, there were a total of 121 new childhood cancer cases at the KATH.