Among the most affecting and powerful experiences from the trip was spending time in the children’s ward at Ocean Road. Coming face-to-face with little lives that had been interrupted by various cancers is heartbreaking. But what struck me most was how avoidable many of the cases were.
One of the greatest success stories in oncology in recent decades has been measures to treat retinoblastoma, a cancer of the eye’s retina that typically occurs in early childhood. In developed countries, signs of the cancer are quickly picked up and over 95% of children are cured. It’s one of the more treatable forms of cancer as chemotherapy and other measures usually produce positive results.
Yet in Tanzania and Kenya, children and parents with lack of knowledge and no access to health care seek treatment in later stages of the disease, which increases the risk that the disease may have spread.
This served to drive the following point home: it’s not going to suffice to simply implement cancer therapy and viable health care strategies. Public outreach and education on cancer must play a strong role to foster early detection and screening for children and adults across the region.