I have come to Dhaka in Bangladesh to see for myself the programme that World Child Cancer supports in this huge country of 160 million people. Dhaka is an increasingly modern city with a rising economy. With a rapidly growing population of 20 million people, it is notable that the infrastructure is unable to cope – people discuss the traffic here in the same way they discuss the weather in Britain! Along with the infrastructure, government services here also struggle to keep up with the growing demand, hospitals are desperately overcrowded and lack both staff and medical equipment.
I headed out first thing to visit the University hospital to meet Professor Afiqul and Professor Jamal, who jointly lead World Child Cancer’s programme here. They are both experienced paediatric oncologists who have played a key role in building up services and enforcing change for treating children with cancer across the country. Like with all the children’s cancer specialists, both professors are extremely committed to their work and the patients that they treat.
As I spend more time with Professor Afiqul, learning more about the challenges of treating cancer, the scale of the problem in Bangladesh becomes a lot clearer to me. Accurate statistics are held within the 5 specialist treatment centres. However, at present there is no comprehensive database across the country, therefore the total numbers are estimations based on populations in countries with full registers. It is estimated that across Bangladesh 9 – 14,000 children will develop cancer each year. Roughly around 10% are treated within the 5 centres, but other children will be treated by general paediatricians across various locations. Overall, roughly 20% of the children with cancer will receive treatment, which in turn means at the moment around 80% of children receive no form of cancer treatment. This might be due to the embedded culture that cancer cannot be treated, or families relying on Homeopathic and other traditional healers to treat their child. As I am sure you agree, these are bleak figures which can and must change!
During my visit I met Dr.Sharif, a newly qualified paediatric oncologist working in Prof. Afiqul’s team. Prof. Afiqul proudly introduced me to him as a survivor of child cancer and one of his patient’s that he treated years ago. Dr Sharif is an inspirational figure both to the children and to the mothers he supports.
Most children can survive childhood cancer and the dedicated and growing team here are determined to make progress in Bangladesh. I come away from my first day feeling determined that World Child Cancer can really help make a difference to the lives of so many children and families.
The programme in Bangladesh is funded with UK Aid from the UK government.