The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Battling Cancer in Ethiopia

Author - Tsige Birru-Benti

When I left Ethiopia in the early 1980s I was old enough to understand what was going on in the country where I was born and brought up. particularly regarding the life of ordinary Ethiopians, their health, day-to-day activities, earnings, hope, etc. At the time a well known complaint about health was that a person was suffering from gastritis, or in the worst case could be subject to chronic diseases like tuberculosis or malaria ... but not cancer. I don't mean that cancer did not exist in the country, but I never heard about it as a killer disease, or about its treatment.

Sadly, there is still a lack of awareness about cancer in Ethiopia compared to those chronic diseases that every one talked about. Unfortunately, even when people are ill they prefer to use traditional medicine rather than visit a local clinic. This could be related to the presence of traditional healers in most villages, and the fact that they may be consulted without an appointment. Furthermore, traditional healers possess a reputation gained through past activities. Therefore, those patients who are unaware of the developments of modern medicine die without visiting their local clinics, their town's hospital, and even without getting any form of help or comfort from the right health carer.

At the beginning of 2010 here in the UK, I was taken ill and diagnosed with cancer (a lymphoma grade 2) and underwent several courses of chemotherapy. At the end of July 2010 I finished all my medication and thank God I am enjoying a good health once again.

While I was still under medication, my husband said to me "when you get better we will find a way of helping cancer sufferers in Ethiopia". We talked about it on a regular basis, discussed options, and searched for information. A friend introduced us to a doctor in charge of the oncology unit at the Black Lion Hospital (BLH) in Addis Ababa. Via email we learnt about all of the needs of the oncology unit.

In December 2010, after regaining my strength and feeling fit to travel, my husband and I went to Ethiopia to visit family and friends. We had the opportunity to meet the doctor in charge, with whom we had corresponded, and visited the oncology unit at BLH. He took us around the cancer centre and showed us rooms which were without appropriate diagnostic and treatment equipment; briefed us on what the centre is lacking in order to treat those suffering from cancer; and informed us that BLH is the only referral hospital in the country that serves many million patients all round the year. The oncology unit cares for 6000 cancer patients with only 4 specialist doctors, one cobalt machine, no CT simulator, and so on. Every year the unit takes at least 2000 newly diagnosed patients, but the waiting time to start treatment is more than 6 months. In the meantime 14% of them may die without any help or comfort.

Although we knew that cholera and HIV swept many people from the face of Ethiopia we never expected that cancer victims' cases could overwhelm us like that. Hearing the above information was painful for us. We were devastated and saddened to see how the doctors were limited in their effort to help patients due to lack of treatment and resources.

After we came back to London I felt I must do something about it. Since I was a victim of cancer myself, and a witness of the scarcity of the treatment machines in the BLH cancer centre, I have tried to walk all possible avenues to find an opening that could make a difference. With the help of a friend I searched for suppliers of the necessary medical equipment, gathering information about suppliers of the medical equipment, its cost, its transportation, and its maintenance. His search revealed that £1,000,000 is needed to purchase the machinery and the life saving medical equipment.

Unfortunately, I did not have £1,000,000 in my account - but I do have the passion to help and to walk alongside those who suffer from cancer. I discussed the issue with my close friends who shared my passion and we decided to set up a charity and named it Battling Cancer in Ethiopia.

Battling Cancer in Ethiopia (BCE) is a newly registered charity (charity number 1146052) in the UK. Its main purposes are the relief of sickness, and to preserve and protect good health for those who walk under the shadow of death due to lack of medical equipment in Ethiopia. BCE is committed to spreading awareness and raising funds to buy machinery for the oncology unit at BLH. BCE's aim is to encourage the public to donate to a good cause which will save lives, give a second chance to cancer sufferers, and equip the oncology unit with the resources needed for treating cancer.

It is evident that BCE can do nothing by itself without public participation or support. We plan fund-raising events to accomplish the target of £1,000,000, and hope to get grants and sponsors as well, but any help or support you can give will be most appreciated.

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First Published in News File Summer 2012

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