FINDING HOPE

Recent Disasters - Passing Baton of Compassion and Hope

Finding Hope in Tanzania

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania-Mwema Hamisi knew her 6-year-old daughter was very sick. The symptoms came on suddenly. One day, Asha was happy and playful. The next day, she was in pain.

Hamisi took Asha to one hospital, then another and another. Asha went to three hospitals in less than two months, but no one seemed to know what was wrong with her.

Finally, Hamisi and Asha were referred to Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, about an hour-long trip from their home. There, Asha was seen in the pediatric oncology ward and doctors diagnosed the kindergartener with Burkitt's Lymphoma (BL), an aggressive form of childhood cancer.

Hamisi had never heard of BL, but doctors explained what needed to be done and shared the good news: BL is highly treatable when it's caught early.

And it appeared doctors diagnosed Asha in time. Treatment to save her life could begin right away.

Asha was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma at Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania. (Josephat Mugunda/IMA World Health)

Asha was diagnosed with Burkitt's Lymphoma at Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania. (Josephat Mugunda/IMA World Health)

Asha is fortunate her mother kept working to find help, because care and treatment for childhood cancer is not readily available in Tanzania. The Upendo Children's Cancer Ward at Muhimbili National Hospital is the only children's cancer ward in the country, which is almost twice the size of California and has the largest population in East Africa. More than 52 million people call Tanzania home and nearly half of them are younger than 18. (Source: www.cia.gov)

More than 85 percent of childhood cancer occurs in developing countries such as Tanzania. Lack of access to health care contributes to poor survival rates in these countries. Burkitt's Lymphoma is most common in children living in sub-Saharan Africa and is related to the Epstein-Barr virus. Symptoms usually include swelling and distortion of facial bones and tumors that can grow quickly, sometimes doubling their size in 18 hours.

Dr. Trish Scanlan, an Irish pediatric oncologist, runs the children's cancer ward. When she arrived in Dar es Salaam in 2007, there was only a 5 percent survival rate for most pediatric cancer patients. Children with BL had a higher survival rate, but only if they were diagnosed early and treated promptly.

Luke King, IMA's Country Director in Tanzania, center, looks at chemotherapy drugs purchased with funding from Week of Compassion, with pharmacists at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.(Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

Luke King, IMA's Country Director in Tanzania, center, looks at chemotherapy drugs purchased with funding from Week of Compassion, with pharmacists at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.(Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

With support from Week of Compassion, IMA World Health provides educational materials that help train health care professionals in diagnosis and case management. (Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

With support from Week of Compassion, IMA World Health provides educational materials that help train health care professionals in diagnosis and case management. (Jennifer Bentzel/IMA World Health)

About 70 percent of the hospital's funding comes from the Tanzanian government, but Muhimbili National Hospital depends on support such as Week of Compassion to fill the gap and enable children to receive care for free. With Week of Compassion, IMA World Health was able to provide chemotherapy drugs needed to treat BL to the Pediatric Oncology Ward at Muhimbili National Hospital. IMA was also able to provide training manuals for health care workers along with booklets for both parents and children to prepare them for their journey through the treatment process.

Because of Week of Compassion's partnership, more than 4,500 children like Asha have been treated. More than 2,000 healthcare professionals and students have been trained in diagnosis and case management.

In Asha's case, her journey has just begun, but she looks forward to going back to school where she has many friends. Until then, her mother will be by her side, working to ensure her daughter has a bright future of health, healing and well-being.