KARACHI: Health professionals at an event held at a local hotel on Saturday regretted that while cancer cases were growing, no government-run district hospital in the interior of Sindh or in entire Balochistan offered treatment for childhood cancer and poor families were often forced to travel long distances and come to Karachi where only two healthcare facilities offered free-of-cost treatment for cancer.

They were speaking at Childhood Cancer Survivors’ Day organised by The Indus Hospital (TIH).

The event featuring a number of interesting activities was attended by paediatric oncology patients, their caregivers and doctors, 50 long-term survivors of childhood cancer, many of whom are now accomplished professionals, a number of celebrities and the hospital staff.

Sharing their stories, survivors talked about their struggle with cancer and the support they received from their caregivers. They spoke highly of everyone, especially healthcare professionals, who helped them fight their illness.

“The disease changed the way I looked at life and helped me live a happier and more energetic life. I think cancer survivors are stronger than others,” said Sabica Kulsoom, who hosted the event, and currently heads a finance and audit organisation.

Talking about the difficulties families faced in getting cancer treatment, Dr Shamvil Ashraf, the executive director of medical services at the Indus Health Network and founder of the paediatric oncology services at the hospital, said that a number of families were forced to abandon treatment in the middle.

“Because they can’t afford to stay in Karachi for a prolonged period, despite being offered free-of-cost treatment,” he said.

According to him, the hospital receives around 800 new cases of childhood cancer annually, more than half of which are from outside Karachi.

Elaborating upon this point, he said: “Twenty-five per cent are from the interior of Sindh, 15pc from Balochistan and the rest from Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and even Afghanistan.”

He urged the government to provide childhood cancer treatment facilities at least at the divisional level, if not at the district level in the interior of Sindh.

The most common cancers in children, he pointed out, were blood cancer followed by lymphomas, brain tumours, carcinomas (a type of cancer that starts in cells that make up the skin or the tissue lining organs) and retinoblastoma (affecting retina).

One major risk factor for childhood cancers, according to him, is genetic abnormalities and rarely childhood cancer is hereditary. Unlike cancer in adults, childhood cancer is curable if diagnosis is made early.

“The event’s aim was to highlight success stories, create awareness of childhood cancer among patients and the community and recognise the incredible determination and resolve of their caregivers who fight bravely to save the lives of their children,’ said Dr Abdul Bari Khan, the chief executive officer of TIH, while acknowledging donors’ assistance.

The event ended with a motivating song with lyrics penned by Sadia Hareem and sung by Ustad Sajid Ali Khan, with a take home message that cancer in children is curable and it’s a fight all of us have to fight together.

Published in Dawn, August 13th, 2018