Research

Update: More Hope for Children with Cancer in Africa

by Becky C. Weaver, Chief Mission Officer, St. Baldrick's Foundation
October 27, 2022

Of the many incredible things St. Baldrick’s donors have made possible for kids with cancer, one stands out to me like no other. The return on investment from this one grant has already far exceeded expectations, and each year its impact continues to grow. 

A Seed Planted

With the goal of training doctors from low- and middle-income countries, the first St. Baldrick’s International Scholar was awarded in 2013. But while Dr. Joseph Lubega of Uganda was in training at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, he was also planting a seed: He set up the first pediatric oncology program for pediatricians in his home country. 

With St. Baldrick’s support, Dr. Lubega became one of the first trained pediatric oncologists in all of Uganda, where the need is great – as it is across Africa.

Map infographic of Childhood Cancers in U.S. & Africa

And the ability for pediatricians in the region to specialize in childhood cancer without leaving Africa was a game-changer.

The first four doctors graduated from the program at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda in August 2018. Including Dr. Lubega, there were then five trained pediatric oncologists in Sub-Saharan Africa – with more following in their footsteps.

A Tree Grows: An Update

Dr. Lubega’s St. Baldrick’s funding ended in 2019, but he often sends updates, always thanking St. Baldrick’s donors.

In August 2022, he wrote after several visits with colleagues, accompanied by Dr. David Poplack, Director of Global Hematology Oncology Pediatric Excellence (HOPE), Texas Children’s Cancer Center. Dr. Lubega writes:

Over the last couple of weeks, we touched base with several of the pediatric cancer teams that are led by the fellows we trained, and we continue to support. It is mind blowing how much progress has been made! The passion! The compassion! The effort these teams are putting into improving things for these children is so inspiring.

I have attached some photos for you.

Dr. Joseph Lubega and 2023 St. Baldrick’s Ambassador Natasha at her 14th birthday party

Dr. Joseph Lubega and 2023 St. Baldrick’s Ambassador Natasha at her 14th birthday party

Natasha, our St. Baldrick’s International Ambassador, is now over three years since she completed her therapy for acute myeloid leukemia, and we can confidently say she is cured, since AML very rarely relapses over three years later. More importantly, July 27 was her 14th birthday, and we hosted a birthday party for her in Kampala – you can see the city in the background.

Dr. Fred Lutwama, current St. Baldrick’s International Scholar (center) with Dr. David Poplack (left), and Dr. Joseph Lubega (right)

Dr. Fred Lutwama, current St. Baldrick’s International Scholar (center) with Dr. David Poplack (left), and Dr. Joseph Lubega (right)

We touched base with Dr. Fred Lutwama, current St. Baldrick’s International Scholar. He is making lots of progress in building the molecular diagnostic capacity in Kampala.  

Ten of the pediatric oncologists transforming care for children fighting cancer in Africa

Ten of the pediatric oncologists transforming care for children fighting cancer in Africa

We visited Dar es Salaam in Tanzania where Dr. Lulu Chirande (next to Dr. Poplack) and Dr. Nana Nakiddu (extreme right), both graduates of our training program at Makerere University in Uganda, are now leading another training program. This one is at Muhimbili University (MUHAS) in Dar es Salaam, with a total of six fellows: three in year 1 and three in year 2 (graduating this year). Dr. Fat-Hiya Al-Oufy, second right, will be the first pediatric oncologist in Zanzibar.

Five more pediatric cancer leaders with Drs. Lubega and Poplack

Five more pediatric cancer leaders with Drs. Lubega and Poplack

The training program in Uganda at Makerere University College of Health Sciences is thriving. Dr. Ruth Namazzi (far left), one of our very first graduates there, is the Fellowship Director. Dr. Joseph Gore (front center) is one of the fellows and will be the first pediatric oncologist in South Sudan.

The St. Baldrick’s mustard seed is now a massive tree!

Branching Out Across Africa

Twenty people have now graduated from the program in Uganda, and they are leading pediatric cancer care and research at nine different centers across Africa. These pediatricians are now seeing more than 2,500 new children each year, in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Botswana. Natasha is just one of them.

And it all started with one grant, made possible by St. Baldrick’s donors. Thank you.

Natasha in school uniform

Donate in honor of Natasha and others fighting cancer in Africa

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