Charity Spotlight – World Child Cancer
Welcome to our second Charity Spotlight Interview. This week we have been lucky enough to work with World Child Cancer, a charity which works internationally to improve outcomes for children living with cancer in the developing world. If you have further suggestions for charities you would like to be featured, do get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Please could you describe the issue of childhood cancer in developing countries, and the work that you do to support affected children and their families?
Each year over 300,000 children are expected to develop cancer, with the majority of these based in developing countries. In a developed country such as the UK a child with cancer has an 80% chance of survival but this figure drops to as low as 10% in developing countries. Survival rates are enormously disparate due to a lack of accurate diagnosis, distance to hospital, the inability of families to pay for treatment or simply a lack of awareness of childhood cancer.
World Child Cancer aims to address these issues by:
- Training healthcare workers on spotting the early warning signs of childhood cancer and conducting
awareness raising campaigns in communities to ensure more children receive an earlier diagnosis
- Supporting training for healthcare professionals to improve capacity to care for children with cancer, including
supporting partnerships between hospitals in developed countries and in the countries we work in
- Supporting some of the poorest and most vulnerable families in the world by covering essential treatment and
transport costs and providing psycho-social support
We aim to give children with cancer a faster route to better treatment.
In what ways do the challenges manifest differently across the different counties in which you work?
There are many factors that differ from country to country in our programmes. From cultural norms to the standard of facilities available. There may be factors such as the ability for families to travel to hospital, the cost of treatment and the connotations of cancer in society. Religious influence can have a huge impact on cancer care, in some countries a local religious leader may be the first port of call when something is wrong with their child whilst in others it may be a local hospital they visit first.
Importantly, there are also many similarities in the barriers that prevent children from accessing treatment. In almost all of our programmes, the cost of cancer care can push families further into poverty. Many of the people we support live in rural, hard to reach places meaning travelling to hospital can be a burden in itself even before the cost of cancer care.
There are also similarities in terms of awareness. Many of the families we support have never heard of childhood cancer, for some there may not even be a word for cancer in their language. We are changing this through several awareness raising campaigns in the countries in which we work through national media outlets and local communities.
What would you say are some of the biggest barriers to successfully treating cancer in developing countries?
Families are forced to overcome many barriers when trying to access treatment. These include:
- Misdiagnosis – There is little awareness of childhood cancer in the countries in which we work meaning
receiving a diagnosis is very difficult. Children are often sent between different hospitals who do not know
what the problem is before they are eventually referred to a hospital that is able to provide a diagnosis. This
means that children are often misdiagnosed or given ineffective treatments, resulting in valuable time lost in
their fight against cancer.
- Distance to hospital – the families we support often live in rural, hard to reach places meaning it can be
difficult and expensive for families to reach one of the few childhood cancer treatment centres in their country
to be able to receive a diagnosis and begin treatment.
- Finances – In addition to transport costs, in most of the countries that we work in families are required to pay
for diagnosis and treatment themselves. Often families take out loans and develop large debts they cannot
- Treating a child for cancer can be a lengthy process meaning families have to stay on the ward, away from
their families and livelihoods. They cannot afford accommodation costs and miss out on vital income whilst not
being able to work.
Cancer doesn’t only impact of the physical wellbeing of the child in question. What other socioeconomic challenges does the diagnosis of cancer present to the family?
Cancer has a huge impact on the entire family as much as it does on the wellbeing of the child. In the countries where we work, parents are forced to leave their homes to spend extended periods of time at hospital whilst not being able to work. This means they must pay for travel, accommodation, food and treatment costs whilst losing out on vital income.
These issues can cause families to abandon treatment which is why we are working to cover essential treatment costs, provide accommodation and welcome packs consisting of food and wash kits to support some of the poorest and most vulnerable families.
As well as financial strains the emotional impact of having a child with cancer can be devastating. Often, mothers travel several hours to spend long periods of time at hospital with their sick child. This can be a very lonely and challenging time, but we can help support them through this. In Ghana for example, we have developed jewellery making classes for mothers to use as an opportunity to learn new skills, talk to other mothers on the ward and provide vital income by selling the jewellery they make. When speaking to mothers in Ghana they told us it gave them the opportunity to talk about their feelings with others that understand and know what they are going through.
We are now developing a new psychosocial support programme to try and reduce the stresses of having a child with cancer. In some communities we work in cancer can be a taboo subject but by raising awareness of childhood cancer we can and are changing this for the better.
This blog post was a collaboration between Serena Bailey, Director of Engagement for CORBIS and Kieran Sandhu representing World Child Cancer. If you are a student at the University of Sussex, Brighton and Sussex Medical School or Institute of Development Studies and would be interested in getting involved with out work, get in touch with us at email@example.com