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Top of the class in Tanzania

By IHP, Sep 5 2018 12:31PM

Saida is eight years old. A year ago, like most girls her age in Tanzania, she was in Primary School Year Two. She was happy. Her favourite subjects were maths and writing; she was among the top of her class; had won a Best-in-Year prize the previous year and enjoyed playing dodgeball with her friends. Life was good.

This year her education has slipped backwards because she’s had to spend so much time in hospital. You see, Saida has cancer. To be precise, she has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (a cancer of the immune system). A doctor at the hospital in Dar-es-Salaam, where Saida is being treated, describes her journey in the last 12 months as ‘a huge battle’.

When Saida first started to feel unwell and was taken for medical assessment, she was treated for tuberculosis (TB). As her condition continued to deteriorate she was given an incision biopsy which enabled the pathology lab to confirm a correct diagnosis which identified a hidden cancer in her chest. The delay in correct diagnosis had allowed the cancer to spread to her neck.

TLM – which stands for Their Lives Matter or Tumaini la Maisha (which, translated literally, means ‘Hope for Life’) – supports hospitals in Tanzania caring for children with cancer.

In resource rich-countries across Europe, North America and beyond, cure rates of 85% are expected for all children with cancer. The success rate in most Sub-Saharan countries is closer to 5%, and so Tanzania is fortunate to have the support of TLM whose work means that upwards of 500 children a year receive treatment. TLM has links to the UK and Ireland and IHP supplies donated medical treatments to TLM on a regular basis.

Back to Saida. Once diagnosed correctly, she was started on a regime of intravenous chemotherapy every four weeks. For each cycle, Saida comes into the hospital for several days to get her blood count checked the day before the treatment, and then is kept in for a day after the chemotherapy to monitor her response.

Luckily for Saida, her family live close by, so she is able to return home after each hospital stay. For other children at the clinic this is not possible and their stays are much longer.

At the time of writing, Saida has just finished her last cycle of chemo and the doctors are pleased with the response. Although the mass in her chest remains, the cancer in her neck has completely subsided.

Although Saida was quiet when she first came in for treatment, she has been recovering so well, the doctors say she is now usually the happiest person on the ward. During a recent visit by IHP Chief Executive Adele Paterson, and Director of Programmes Louise Hart, Saida was skipping around, full of beans, posing for photographs and trying to negotiate an early release with the doctors. She was desperate to get home because she was going to be a flower girl at her auntie’s wedding.

In a brief pause as she skipped past, Saida told Louise that she hadn’t quite decided what she wanted to be when she was older, but had narrowed the choice to becoming either a teacher, a doctor or a policewoman.

Successful treatment will allow her to go back to the top of the class and complete her education, so it looks as if she will have the career options of her choice. Without TLM or the medicines provided by IHP, this would not have been possible.

Update Aug 2018 – Saida is in Dar es Salaam for the final stage of her treatment where she is receiving radiotherapy

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