Dr Emma Johnson is the twinning lead for World Child Cancer's programme in Ghana – along with other doctors and nurses from Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh she regularly visits Ghana to deliver training. Emma has worked as a paediatric oncologist for over 20 years and a highlight of her career has been volunteering with World Child Cancer for the last 6 years.
I feel hugely proud to have been a small part in such a successful and amazing partnership between my department in Edinburgh and the children's cancer departments in both Accra and Kumasi in Ghana.
Emma has suffered from cancer herself which made her realise how important it is to feel well looked after.
I needed to put my whole trust in the doctors, nurses and other professionals looking after me. Luckily for me I was treated at a leading breast cancer unit in UK where every facility was available. This is not the case in low and middle income countries. Staff are less well supported and money is scarce. Routine tests and drugs are just not freely available. Parents, patients and staff must feel afraid at times.
Emma worked hard to prepare presentations and training for workshops held in Ghana but thinks that the most worthwhile parts of the visits are walking around the wards, meeting the children and their families and reassuring them that there is hope.
Meeting medical, nursing and pharmacy staff was an inspiration to me. These professionals see unimaginable suffering and just 'get on with it' with few resources.
Since Emma’s first visit to Ghana in 2010 there have been enormous improvements, such as clear protocols and guidelines, multidisciplinary meetings (which are fun and full of laughter), empowered nurses who will ask questions and challenge doctors, passionate and dedicated pharmacists and increased awareness of childhood cancer due to the commitment of Prof Lorna Renner and her colleagues. They are able to successfully treat childhood cancer in Accra with far fewer drugs, especially antibiotics, than are used at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.
I was not expecting how much I would learn from the professionals in Ghana. I really believe that I have learnt as much from them as I have been able to give back. I feel very privileged and hugely proud to be part of such a fantastic project.