Tackling misdiagnosis and the costs of cancer

Dr Paul Wharin is a retired GP from the UK and has worked in Cameroon for several years. 1000 children are expected to develop cancer in Cameroon each year but many of them will never be able to access the treatment they require. Today, Dr Wharin identifies the issues around families being forced to abandon treatment and misdiagnosis.

“My colleague, Dr Mona Tamannai, carried out a study of palliative care home visits to children with cancer in 2015 and found that although parents were reluctant to express any complaints; loss of income and impoverishment were often their main areas of distress.”

Many families in developing countries earn less than £2 meaning finances are scarce. When they have a child with cancer, these finances are further stretched as they pay for travel to and from hospital and living costs whilst away from home.

A lack of awareness of childhood cancer also means many children are misdiagnosed and arrive at hospital with late stages of cancer.

“The problem of low awareness of childhood cancer is strongly linked to a belief in witchcraft and to faith in traditional medicine - which we need to counter. We do this most vigorously but with respect for Cameroonian culture. A study in 2008 by one of our research assistant nurses, Edith Tanni at Banso showed that 70% of parents of children with cancer who presented at the hospital had previously consulted a village practitioner - and the diagnosis given was often "witchcraft”.

Jenny is one such example of a child who was misdiagnosed before eventually being treated for eye cancer. After spending several months in local hospitals, Jenny eventually reached Korle Bu Teaching Hospital where she is now being treated. Despite being on the road to recovery, Jenny has had her eye removed, something that could have been avoided had the cancer been found earlier. Jenny's mother Patience did not know of the existence of childhood cancer before her daughter's diagnosis;

“It was the first time I had ever heard of a child developing cancer, I was shocked.”

Just £10 could have bought a healthcare worker essential equipment to screen Jenny for eye cancer, whilst £25 could have paid for an accurate diagnosis. Dr Paul Wharin is one of many healthcare professionals across the UK and beyond that are helping to change the lives of children with cancer. You can help too by giving the gift of growing up to children just like Jenny.