Celebrity Patron, Caitriona Balfe visits Ghana

CEO, Jon Rosser's Blog from Ghana.

Day 1 Korle Bu, Accra 29th August 2016

Day 1 of my trip to Ghana accompanied by our patron Caitriona Balfe and Rachel Brown, our Communications and Fundraising executive. We were visiting Korle Bu hospital in central Accra. This was Caitriona’s first trip to one of our projects since she became one of our Patrons. Although we had briefed Caitriona that a children’s cancer ward is not an easy place to be and will be full of very sick children some of whom may be dying, it is never certain how people will react when faced with the reality. Caitriona coped well with the experience though, and her natural warmth and empathy came across quickly as she sat on the beds with the children and soon had them, and their mothers, laughing and joking. In no time she knew everybody’s name and was familiar with all the different types of cancer present.

We visited the outpatients’ clinic which had been refurbished and redecorated by World Child Cancer and met the children there, and the volunteer play workers who were organising activities for them while they waited for their treatment.

Next door is the women’s group who were making traditional bead necklaces and bracelets to sell to raise some money to help support themselves, supported by another great volunteer who was teaching them how to do it, all funded for by WCC.

And so this was our first experience of travelling with a “celebrity”. But Caitriona quickly dispelled all the stereotypes associated with a celebrity! She was very down to earth, had a great sense of humour, and was not at all fazed by the very basic hotel with temperamental showers, even more basic breakfast, and she loved trying all the different Ghanaian foods.

We finished the day with a meeting with a foundation linked to a multinational company who we very much hope will agree some funding for our Ghana programme for the next few years.

DAY 2 Kumasi 30th August 2016

Kumasi is in the Ashante region of central Ghana and is the second largest city. The hospital there has less resources than Korle Bu and the children’s cancer ward is very overcrowded and busy. The trip there was a 40 minute flight on a propeller plane. We visited the ward and Caitriona again did her magic with all the children who were well enough to be up and play with her.

We then had a meeting with the local parents group who were keen to give us a list of things that were needed to help treat the children more effectively. Top of their list were specialist training in paediatric oncology for the nurses, none of who had that training at present. They also wanted improvements on the testing process for children when they first arrive – at present it can take 3 weeks for the results to emerge and treatment can start. Obviously a very anxious time for the parents. The other great need is for a home for the parents to stay in during the months that their child will be in treatment. Many of them have travelled long distances so returning home is not an option –sleeping on the ward with the children is the only option at the moment. This makes conditions very poor and is a huge source of additional stress for already overwhelmed mothers.

Another very full day with a flight back to Accra in the evening.

DAY 3 Accra 31st August 2016

The morning of our last day in Ghana was largely taken up with a press conference for local newspapers and TV to use Catriona’s pulling power to get our message out to the wider community in Ghana – and in particular to try and persuade the government to include the cost of drugs for children’s cancer in the national health insurance scheme. We heard vivid accounts from Celestine, a parent whose child had sadly died, but was now a stalwart of the local parents group determined that others shouldn’t have to needlessly go through the agony she had experienced.

This was followed by the account of Mark, a father whose young daughter was currently in treatment. He spoke movingly of the stress and worry of having a child diagnosed with cancer, including the massive financial pressure it had brought. He had lost his job as a result of taking time off to bring his daughter to the hospital, and was reliant on support from World Child Cancer to be able to pay for the cost of drugs. His daughter seems to be responding well to treatment, but it will be many months yet before they will know for sure if the treatment is successful.

Then we heard from two young women who had survived cancer. Praises was a young woman who had survived childhood leukaemia. She was now fully clear of the disease, had recently completed university, and had just started her first job working for a local NGO campaigning for women’s rights. Nellie had also survived leukaemia and spoke passionately about how her parents had made her stick with the treatment when she had wanted to give up hope. She now had her own beautiful young baby.

Finally, Caitriona spoke passionately about what she had seen – the hope and the successes, the stress that families had to endure, and the need for more resources to ensure that all children had the best possible chance of surviving childhood cancer.

In the afternoon we went to look at the site that the hospital were willing to make available to build a parents home that could give the parents somewhere proper to live, where children could live with their parents, rather than in a hospital bed for most of their treatment, and where they could cook food for the children that they would be more likely to eat than the hospital food!

Exhausted after a whirlwind 3 days we took the night flight back to London, so Caitriona could get back to her filming in Scotland. Meanwhile Twitter and Instagram buzzing with interest about Caitriona’s visit! We are very grateful for all the ongoing support she has given us! And start to prepare for the next visit….




About the author

Marian Pulford