To improve the lives of children in cancer in Zambia

Fields of work Maternal/Child Health
UK Partner Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust
Developing Country Partner University Teaching Hospital (UTH)
Contact Liz Burns -

World Child Cancer is a charity which specialises in creating international health links to improve child cancer diagnosis, treatment and care in low and middle income countries.   The charity was created in 2007 and is working in 15 countries.   In 2012 our work helped 1,755 children. The focus of our work is on the transfer of expertise and skills through a twinning partnership between hospitals.

World Child Cancer has been in contact with doctors from University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka since February 2012 with a view to developing an international health link to support their work improving treatment and care for children with cancer.

University Teaching Hospital is the largest hospital in Zambia and is the main location for the teaching of healthcare professionals.  It has a 32 bed ward for paediatric and haematology patients.  Around 110 children were diagnosed in 2012.   Exact numbers are not known because there is no national child cancer database. However, there are an anticipated 500 to 750 child cancer cases a year demonstrating low diagnosis rates.  Survival rates are approximately 10% nationwide although they are higher in Lusaka.   Key problems affecting survival rates are:


-          Late diagnosis;

-          Abandonment of treatment;

-          Lack of trained healthcare professionals with experience in diagnosing and treating child cancer;

-          Lack of locally appropriate treatment protocols;

-          Lack of child cancer database.


The local project leader, Dr Catherine Chundu, has been in contact with World Child Cancer since February.

She was requested to complete an outline application for support.  The project shows huge potential but requires further work in order to develop a realistic and achievable five year strategy for improving child cancer survival rates in Zambia.   A Needs Assessment Visit is needed to develop the project further.

The key to improving treatment and care is through the two-way transfer of expertise and skills between

University Teaching Hospital and a hospital from a high income country.   Professor Tim Eden has used his extensive network of contacts to facilitate a link between the Children's Hospital (Oxford University Hospital NHS Trust) in Oxford and the University Teaching Hospital.


The Children's Hospital has a specialist child cancer department and the staff are keen to participate in a twinning partnership.   Their interest in participating in a partnership was sparked earlier this year when Dr Hannah Parks and Helen Bennett (a nurse) were funded to visit the World Child Cancer/AfrOx child cancer project in Ghana in June 2012.  They ran a successful three-day workshop attended by over 50 local healthcare professionals.  The Department of Paediatric Oncology and Haematology at John Radcliffe Hospital are committed to forming a partnership with University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka to explore if a five year strategic plan for improving child cancer treatment and care can be developed there.

We have chosen to work together because all three partners share the same goal of improving diagnosis, treatment and care for children with cancer in low-income countries like Zambia.  In particular:


-          Children's Hospital, Oxford brings a wealth of experience in the treatment of child cancer and the palliation of children with incurable cancer.   They are committed to the partnership and believe that the experience of working on an international health partnership will bring direct benefits to their staff as well as benefiting healthcare professionals in Lusaka.

-          University Teaching Hospital has shown great professionalism and commitment in their advocacy and lobbying for support from World Child Cancer.  We are very impressed with the dedication of the staff at the hospital and feel that it is an ideal location for a twinning partnership.

-          World Child Cancer brings expertise in the development of health partnerships and the management of operational projects.

We believe that the three partners, together, can potentially make a significant and sustainable difference to child cancer survival rates in Zambia.


Which health outcomes will the partnership focus on

The project will focus on improving child mortality rates in Zambia.   The country has made significant progress in reducing under-five mortality rates over the last ten years.   The rate has fallen from 157/1,000 deaths in 2000 to 111/1,000 deaths in 2010.

Although the project will benefit children of all ages under-five mortality rates are a good indicator of a country’s suitability for intervention in the field of child cancer.

World Child Cancer locates its projects in low/middle income countries which have made a significant improvement to under-five mortality rates over a ten year period.  This is because child cancer is becoming a more common cause of mortality in children as deaths from malaria, infectious diseases and other childhood diseases are brought under control.

For many years the strategy of the Zambian government has been to focus on communicable diseases.  However, there is an increasing awareness of the problem of non-communicable diseases and specifically cancer.


Long term goals for the partnership

The long terms goals for the partnership are to build capacity within the Zambian health service to improve long term survival rates for children with cancer by:

  1. Developing a strong and resilient health link partnership founded on mutual respect and understanding which will benefit both     partners equally although in different ways.
  2. Developing locally appropriate treatment protocols for common child cancers which are easily treatable such as Burkitt lymphoma, Wilms tumour, retinoblastoma, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia.  These protocols can then be used in other hospitals in Zambia through a shared care network of child cancer satellite centres
  3. Supporting the development of University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka as a centre of excellence in the treatment of child cancer in sub-Saharan Africa by building capacity and expertise of healthcare staff and improving facilities and equipment.
  4. Developing increased awareness of child cancer and its curability amongst healthcare professionals and parents so that more cancers are diagnosed at the earliest opportunity.
  5. Improving access to treatment through better diagnosis and better funding for treatment and the provision of drugs.
  6. Working with the local parent support group, which is already active, to improve support for parents of patients which a view to reducing the number of children who fail to complete the full course of treatment.