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GHS engages stakeholders on draft childhood cancer strategy

BY: Doreen Andoh
Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General of the Ghana Health Service

The Ghana Health Service says although childhood cancers are curable when detected early, four out of every five affected children in low and middle income countries like Ghana die.

The figure forms part of the 300,000 children who develop childhood cancers every year globally.

Statistics available to the Non-Communicable Diseases Control Programme of the Ghana Health Service indicate that only about 30 per cent of children in the country presenting with the condition survive, a situation it describes as unacceptable

As part of control activities aimed towards prevention, quality care and over 60 per cent survival rate latest by 2030, the GHS has put together a draft national strategy on childhood cancers and an accompanying strategic plan.

It engaged stakeholders in a dissemination and validation workshop yesterday to fine tune the draft and get stakeholder input to ensure that the process of getting the strategy was consultative enough to deliver a workable document.

The draft policy and strategic plan forms part of the implementation of the World Health Organisation’s global initiative on childhood cancers through the Non-Communicable Diseases Control Programme of the Ghana Health Service.

Strategy

The national childhood cancer strategy has the goal to increase survival rates from below 30 per cent to at least 60 per cent and alleviate sufferings of all affected children and their families latest by 2030.

Its objectives include helping to strengthen governance for childhood cancer,  creating awareness and sensitising communities on childhood cancers and helping to promote research into the condition.

It has a vision to facilitate quality care for cure for all children affected in the country.

The strategy is expected to ensure that the country streamlined its activities on childhood cancer control and help to improve partnerships in the childhood cancer space.

Why high mortality

Addressing participants at the opening of a two-day workshop, the Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, said the country had low survival rate because people did not report on time for early diagnosis of cancers in their children coupled with the high cost of treatment that results in people not continuing in treatment until children were cured.

“People often attribute signs of childhood cancers to witchcraft and other superstitious causes and this makes families to wait until the situation is so advanced that nothing could be done before rushing to health facilities,” he said.

He said early diagnosis would save a child’s life and so parents and guardians should always look out for changes such as unexplained weight loss, headaches, often with early morning vomiting, increased swelling or persistent pain in the bones, joints, back, or legs, lump or mass, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits, development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash In their children and report the changes quickly to health facilities.

 He said the country had been selected alongside Gambia and Senegal to pilot the WHO global initiative on childhood cancers that was aimed at attaining at least 60 per cent survival rate for children with cancers by 2030.

Dr Kuma-Aboagye said the GHS had put in place interventions including intensifying public education, improving care and support for affected persons and families.

“The GHS will form the pivot for most of our prevention and control activities and it is important that we enhance the skill of health workers in the primary healthcare setting to ensure early detection and appropriate referral where necessary,” he said.

The Manager of the Non-Communicable Disease Control Programme, Dr Dannis Odai Laryea, said it was worrying that in recent times, NCD, regardless of its devastating nature and simple preventable nature, seemed to be neglected among stakeholders.

The WHO and the National Health Insurance Authority among other stakeholders pledged to do their bit to ensure effective childhood cancer control in the country.

Childhood cancers

Childhood cancer is a term used to describe cancers that occur between birth and 15 years of age. They may differ from adult cancers in the way they grow and spread, how they are treated and how they respond to treatment. 

Also known as pediatric cancer, the common types include leukemia (begins in blood-forming tissue such as bone marrow), lymphoma (begins in the cells of the immune system), neuroblastoma (begins in certain nerve cells), retinoblastoma (begins in the tissues of the retina), Wilms tumor (a type of kidney cancer), and cancers of the brain, bone, and soft tissue.

Signs associated with childhood cancers include continued unexplained weight loss; headaches, often with early morning vomiting; increased swelling or persistent pain in the bones, joints, back, or legs; Lump or mass, especially in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis, or armpits; Development of excessive bruising, bleeding, or rash.

Others include constant, frequent or persistent infections; a whitish colour behind the pupil; nausea that persists or vomiting without nausea; constant tiredness or noticeable paleness; eye or vision changes that occur suddenly and persist; recurring or persistent fevers of unknown origin

But remember that these signs and symptoms may not necessarily be cancer since there are other diseases that present with the same symptoms.

However, it is important that a doctor conducts further checks to give you the appropriate treatment.

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 Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye (middle), Director-General, Ghana Health Service
(GHS), interacting with Dr Lydia Dsane-Selby (left), CEO, National Health Insurance Authority, and Dr Dennis Odai Laryea (right), Programme Manager, Non-Communicable Diseases Control Programme (NCDCP), after the opening ceremony
of the National Childhood Cancer stakeholders meeting. Picture: Maxwell Ocloo