The Ghana Health Service (GHS) has begun training healthcare workers across the country to be able to recognise the early warning signs of cancers in children.
The training, which has so far been organised for healthcare workers in the lower belt, middle and upper belts of the country, involved nurses, doctors and pharmacists.
It comes against the backdrop of concerns by specialists that one of the reasons responsible for the late treatment of cancers in children was the inability of healthcare professionals to quickly detect the early warning signs of the disease in children and, therefore, make immediate referral to the appropriate health facility.
The Deputy Programme Manager and National Focal Person on childhood cancer at the GHS, Dr Wallace Odiko-Ollennu, who disclosed this in Accra, last Tuesday, explained that the essence of the training was for healthcare workers to be alerted about the disease and quickly refer children who were presented with the signs to the right health facility for treatment to begin early.
Dr Odiko-Ollennu said this at the second annual memorial lecture in honour of the former Rector of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr Jacob Plange-Rhule, who is reported to be very passionate about childhood cancers and for a long time held the hope that childhood cancers were curable, even before there was confirmation of this.
The lecture was organised by World Child Cancer, a United Kingdom based organisation with presence in Africa and Asia, and it was in collaboration with the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons; the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital; the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital; the GHS; Roche and the World Health Organisation.
The lecture was on the topic, ‘The Global Initiative of Childhood Cancer (GICC): Through the lens of policy, national response and the service provider,’ and Dr Odiko-Ollennu spoke from the national response angle of GICC.
He explained that they were seeing a lot of cases of childhood cancers being presented late for treatment and that was accounting for the deaths and low cure rate of childhood cancers in the country.
He said it was the main priority of the GHS now to make sure that people in the community, healthcare workers and everybody were made aware of the warning signs of the disease, hence the training.
“The Global Initiative on Childhood Cancer aims for 60 per cent survival rate for children with cancer in Ghana. Our current survival rate is 20 per cent and we need to get 60 per cent. To get there, we need to overcome some obstacles on our path including early warning signs.”
Barriers to childhood cancer treatment
He mentioned other barriers to early childhood cancer treatment in the country as misinformation about the condition, financial constraints and abandonment of treatment to seek spiritual help.
For her part, a Paediatric Oncologist at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Catherine Segbefia, said whether childhood cancers were curable or not, cancer cells were bad and expressed the hope that the country could get to a point where every child with cancer would have the potential for survival.
The immediate past Dean of the University of Ghana Medical School, Prof. Margaret Lartey, stated that as the Ghana Health Service trained the health force, it should also look at building excellent centres and creating good referral systems.
A nephrologist by specialisation, the late Prof. Plange-Rhule, who succumbed to death due to COVID-19 in 2020, was described by his colleagues as one who showed qualities of a leader, a diligent academician and one of the foundation members of the Faculty of Internal Medicine.
Present at the lecture was his wife, Dr Gyikua Plange-Rhule, the President of the Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr John Nkrumah Mills, practising medical practitioners and survivors of childhood cancers as well as their parents.