Paediatric Oncology Unit plays vital role in childhood cancer
The incidence of childhood cancer worldwide is in the region of 15 per 100 000 children under the age of 15 years. There are no published data available on the exact incidence of childhood cancer in South Africa, but there are an estimated 1 000 cases reported annually. We should be diagnosing 2 300 cases annually if the incidence rate is assumed to be 15 cases per 100 000 children.
The most common childhood malignancy is acute leukaemia, followed by brain tumours and lymphomas. Unfortunately, many children in South Africa are not diagnosed and are dying prior to being referred or diagnosed. There is often a delay in diagnosis as well, which means that patients are referred with advanced disease. As a result, the overall survival rate in South Africa is thought to be in the region of 50%, compared to 75–80% in high-income countries.
The only way to improve diagnosis and early referral, which will improve survival, is through education and awareness campaigns targeted at primary healthcare providers as well as the public at large. We also need to look at improving referral pathways, thereby making the services we currently have easily accessible. The Childhood Cancer Foundation South Africa (CHOC) and the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), in conjunction with the South African Childhood Cancer Study Group (SACCSG) and various other NGOs, have been instrumental in promoting childhood cancer awareness in South Africa. Early warning signs are distributed via social media platforms, mainstream media and by means of posters and pamphlets that are made available to primary healthcare facilities. We take pride in the fact that there are no waiting times for referrals to our unit, and we almost always see the patients within 24 hours of referral.
The Paediatric Oncology Unit at Steve Biko Academic Hospital (SBAH) was established in 2009. Prior to this, the unit was at Kalafong Hospital. At present, we diagnose approximately 100 new paediatric cancer patients per annum, serving the population of northern Gauteng, southern Limpopo and the entire Mpumalanga province. We have two full-time consultants and one part-time consultant managing a 30-bed in-patient ward and a ten-bed out-patient facility. We also offer a stem cell transplant service for certain conditions.
Fareed Omar, Adjunct Professor/Senior Specialist from Paediatrics and Child Health, Steve Biko Academic Hospital