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Childhood cancer not a priority

As South Africa is celebrating women’s month, Reach For a Dream organisation is celebrating women who are making difference in South African medicine and making a difference in the lives of children with cancer.

One of the women commended by Reach For a Dream for her achievements was Professor Janet Poole. She heads the Paediatric Oncology Unit at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Hospital, where she has worked in paediatric haematology and oncology since 1985.

“I have to admit it was not my first choice, but I was seconded to the unit when the head of the unit went on sabbatical and I fell in love with the children,” said Poole, explaining why she has never left.

According to Poole, all children deserve to fulfil the potential they have when they are born.

“I felt that if I could make a difference in some of these little people’s lives, then everything is worth it,” she said, adding that there were many children who would surprise the medical staff by surviving against all odds.

Supportive care

According to Poole, apart from all the advances in supportive care, diagnostic tests and surgery, the best treatment for a child with cancer is to be looked after at a dedicated Paediatric Oncology Unit manned by a team of people.

“I believe that every child should be afforded the best treatment, no matter who they are or where they come from,” she said.

Poole said working at a state hospital came with challenges.

“Because of the burden of infectious diseases and the HIV epidemic, there is not really a priority for non-communicable diseases such as childhood cancer,” she said.

She explained that childhood cancer was relatively rare, with an incident rate of 1 in 600, or 150 per million. The potential in terms of lives saved is substantial, as the cure rate approximates 80% in high income countries. Of the 250,000 children diagnosed annually worldwide with cancer, 80% live in low and middle-income countries and 90% of childhood cancer deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.

“There is, therefore, a huge inequality when it comes to surviving childhood cancer,” said Poole.

Success stories

Poole’s remarkable work was celebrated by Reach For a Dream at a recent breakfast where two of her patients were introduced as success stories

Fourteen-year-old cancer survivor Lesedi Sekgololo was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma a year ago.

“She was misdiagnosed for five months before she was diagnosed correctly with cancer last August,” said her mother, Victoria Sekgololo.

Lesedi’s wish to meet famous South African chef Siba Mtongana came true recently, thanks to the intervention of Reach For a Dream, who made it happen.

Poole said she would like to see every child that has cancer being afforded the opportunity to be treated properly and enabled to live a normal life. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was also published in Health24

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