Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust: supporting African children that suffer from Burkitt lymphoma cancer

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Hospitals

The required wording in the Governing Document is ‘the area of benefit’. The two hospitals named are Banso Baptist Hospital, Kumbo, NW Province, Cameroon, and Mbingo Baptist Hospital, Nr Bamenda, NW Province, Cameroon. This is our area of benefit. Banso Baptist Hospital I will refer to as BBH, and Mbingo Baptist Hospital as MBH.

Christianity first arrived in Cameroon through Baptists – but an English one – called Alfred Saker in 1845. He founded the town originally called Victoria – now called Limbé.  I have heard little religious songs sung in Cameroon that mention his name. I have read also that he was a fairly ruthless businessman. One often finds that men who one revered in childhood get a bad press fifty years later. Good examples in Africa are Livingstone and Schweitzer. However – it is not English Baptists that drive BBH and MBH, but American Baptists. After eight years of work for these hospitals I have come to love them and their staff dearly.

The equipment and the availability of medicines is rudimentary compared with the situation in Europe and USA. At BBH and MBH staffing levels are pretty good for sub-Saharan hospitals, but poor by our standards. There are no Paediatricians in either hospital, nor have there ever been; I am the nearest they have ever come to that; I’m not much – but I’m all they’ve got!

There are no anaesthetists; that work is done by nurses who have been trained to give anaesthetics. There are no X ray doctors; that work  – and Ultrasonography – is also done by technicians, and I have been astonished at the sheer skill of all such people in rural Africa. Drips are not put up by doctors; there are too few doctors; nurses do that. And thanks be to God for it, because the days are long gone that I could set up a drip on a small child.

Lumbar punctures are generally done by nurses from the Treatment Room of the hospital. One could go on. The point becomes clear that there are not enough specialist doctors to do the jobs which you and I take for granted. Therefore someone else must do them. Thank God for Nurses; they are pure gold. They can run the wards; they scarcely need doctors. They are black Cameroonians, and very poor by our standards, and by no means educated to our level, but they are devoted, dedicated, motivated, skilled, and ever-present when needed. At BBH and MBH they are also intensely Christian, and I have come to respect them enormously.

Both BBH and MBH are about 50 years old. Both are faith-based, and both are non-profit making organizations. MBH started life as a rural leprosy treatment centre, and leprosy – normally now called Hansen’s disease – is still treated there. Both hospitals now have about 250 beds for all the usual major specialities. Costs to patients are necessary but kept to a minimum. Pastors are as numerous as doctors.

As in all sub-Saharan countries there is a significant HIV/AIDS problem. More than 10% of apparently healthy pregnant women coming to out-patient clinics are found to be HIV positive. BBH has addressed this problem diligently for a number of years, and applied itself – and MBH – to the treatment of HIV sufferers. This includes treatment of HIV positive women admitted in labour, as well as the treatment of their newborn. The hospital has a quite impressive data-base of HIV statistics.

BBH is situated near Kumbo town, population about 10 000. MBH – 50 miles distant on largely undeveloped roads – is truly rural; the nearest community of any size being Bamenda, the Provincial capital, population 300 000, about 25 miles away. Both hospitals share the beautiful mountainous scenery of the Bamenda plateau at around 1500 – 1700 metres above sea level. Although the latitude is 6ºN of the equator – and about 400 miles from it – the altitude results in both hospitals enjoying a climate similar in temperature to an average summer’s day in England. One has to cope however with the dry and rainy seasons. The former reduces the environment to dry red dust; the latter reduces it to wet red mud.

There is a nursing school at BBH, which ensures that both hospitals are serviced by nurses qualifying within the Baptist Convention system. Ex-patriot workers are always to be found in both hospitals. The majority are from the USA, but from time to time one meets English, German, Canadian and other doctors and students.

There is an impressive TB treatment centre at BBH, funded a few years ago by the American Embassy. TB comes in the wake of HIV; both are an ever-present problem.

BBH was the first hospital to admit, investigate, treat and follow-up children diagnosed with Burkitt’s lymphoma. A special room – intended to be a recreation room for long-term inpatients – was quickly set aside for BL children. It is without doubt the most beautiful ward in the hospital! One year ago a BL centre was established at MBH, largely because the additional work for the doctor in charge of Children’s ward at BBH became excessive, owing to the huge influx of BL cases. Our second centre at MBH is now being well-recognised by the community, and our doctor there is ever more busy with BL cases.

The treatment of BL children – and all investigations, medicines and follow-up costs – are free of charge. This is made possible through the activity of the Beryl Thyer Memorial Africa Trust, and formerly, until the death of Geoffrey Thaxter in 2009, the Lisa Thaxter Trust which was based in Coulsdon, Surrey, UK. The funds of that trust have now been absorbed by World Child Cancer – with which global organisation BTMAT is in close collaboration.

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