Around 1,300 new cases of childhood cancer are expected in Ghana each year. There are two main childhood cancer treatment centres in Ghana with Korle Bu Teaching Hospital being the largest tertiary centre in the country and sees most cases.

The second tertiary childhood cancer treatment centre is Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi. The number of cases diagnosed in Ghana is increasing each year and together these hospitals act as referral centres to a growing network of units around the country.

Access to healthcare services is limited for much of the population, so there are many children who are currently not diagnosed.

On the backdrop of this, the World Health Organisation (WHO), in September 2018, selected Ghana as one of the first target countries in the WHO Africa Region to implement the Global Initiative on Childhood Cancer in the world.

As part of the process of implementing this initiative, the Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Health, together with their implementing partners organized a national stakeholders meeting to set out plans for a smooth implementation of the initiative.

The National Stakeholders meeting which happens to be the 2nd of its kind being held in Ghana to discuss issues pertaining to Childhood Cancer, took place at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Accra, from Monday 18th – Tuesday 19th November, 2019.

The WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, is aimed at reaching at least a 60% survival rate for children with cancer by 2030, and thereby saving an additional one million lives. This new target represents a doubling of the global cure rate for children with cancer.

The aims of the Initiative are two-fold, to increase prioritization of childhood cancer through awareness raising at global and national levels and to expand the capacity of countries to deliver best practice in childhood cancer care.

Delivering the keynote address in stead of the Minister of Health, Dr. Kwaku Agyemang Manu, Dr. Ernest Konadu Asiedu, Head of Quality Management at the Ministry of Health said, “As a country, we want to achieve Universal Health Coverage (UHC) and ensure no one is left behind. We have defined UHC as: All people in Ghana having timely access to high quality health services irrespective of the ability to pay at the point of use.”

Dr. Asiedu, emphasized that, “We will ensure child hood cancers are not left behind. The objectives of this workshop are to summarize the landscape and priorities for cancer control in children and adolescents in Ghana, highlight the available resources and tools of WHO for the assessment, prioritization, development and scale-up of cancer control programs, particularly for childhood cancer; and also develop outcome measures as part of a national action strategy for children and adolescents with cancer in Ghana, in alignment with national, regional, and global priorities.”

He indicated that, Ghana is privileged to be selected to join countries receiving support for this global agenda due to the country’s track record of good democratic credentials in the West African Sub Region and the demonstration of high political will.

Dr. Asiedu, said that, “We are expecting WHO to provide support in assessing our capacities in cancer diagnosis and treatment including the availability of medicines and technologies.”

Quoting the Minister of Health, he said, “My Ministry is committed to ensuring that we run an integrated service utilizing innovations including ICT. Cancers are part of the conditions to benefit from this integration going forward. We will ensure that childhood cancers are well integrated into national strategies, health benefit packages schemes to reduce the financial hazards posed to families affected.”

Dr. Ernest Asiedu, emphasized on the fact that, it is important to note that, we are faced with human resources problems that affects access to quality paediatric oncological care in Ghana.

“At present, we have only 3 trained paediatric oncologist: two in Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and I in Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. I must appreciate the work of organizations including World Child Cancer, UK through the UBS Optimus Foundation who are supporting us to train health staffs including doctors, nurses through the Ghana Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons and the Ghana College of Nurse and Midwives.

They are also supporting the training of pharmacists and hematologists outside the country. It is heartwarming to also note that they are equally supporting us to establish a Centre or Excellence and lead for regional training to improve diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

On his part, Mr. Edward Gyepi-Garbrah, Technical Officer (GWEP), World Health Organization, who represented the new
WHO Countrv Office for Ghana, Dr. Neema Kimambo, disclosed that, in accordance with the recent World Health Assembly (WHA) Resolution 70.12 (2017) and 2019-2023 WHO General Programme of Work, WHO is committed to promoting health and equity for all, including children with cancer.

He said, in September 2018, at an inaugural side event on childhood cancer at the United Nations General Assembly, WHO announced a new effort following the High-Level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer with the aim of reaching at least a 60% survival rate for children with cancer globally by 2030 while reducing suffering, altogether saving an additional one million lives.

“This is an ambitious but achievable goal, recognizing that the chances for survival for many childhood cancers still vary widely, with survival exceeding 80% in high resource settings and approximating 20% in many resource-limited settings, where an estimated 90% of children with cancer live.

To achieve its stated goal of improving survival of at least 60% for all children, the primary objectives of this
Initiatives are to: (i) increase capacity of countries to provide quality services for children with cancer, and (ii) increase prioritization of childhood cancer at the global and national levels.

These objectives will be accomplished through concerted efforts at the global, regional and country levels, with implementation supported by a WHO technical package of strategic interventions,” Mr. Gyepi-Garbrah intimated.

He said, the workshop is therefore timely as it has provided the platform to summarize the landscape and priorities for cancer control in children and adolescents in Ghana and highlight the available resources and tools of WHO for the assessment, prioritization, development and scale-up of cancer control programs, particularly for childhood cancer;

Adding that, “The next steps moving forward should build on the very good outcomes of this workshop to concretize the activities that will enhance the early identification and optimum management of Ghanaian children with cancer to improve survival.”

He however underscored that, “As we seek to leave no-one behind in this era of the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to continue advocacy for the inclusion of the treatment of childhood cancer in the National Health Insurance Scheme as pertains for some adult cancers until this is achieved. This will go a long way to improve access to cancer management for children.”

Key among participants at the workshop were CEOs and staffs from the 4 Teachings Hospitals, managers and staffs from WHO (Headquarters, AFRO and Accra), World Child Cancer (UK and Ghana), UNICEF, Ministry of Health, Ghana Health Service, Coalition of NGOs in Health, Survivors and Parents of Childhood Cancer patients, Pharmaceutical Companies, NHIA, Food and Drugs Authority, Ghana College of Physicians and Surgeons, Ghana College of Nurses and Midwives and many others.

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