Childhood Cancer in Africa has very high mortality rates due to ignorance about the disease, lack of money and equipment as well as trained Paediatric Oncology professionals, and it got set back decades by the tragic loss of the lives of 3 healthcare workers, valued members of the team at World Eye Cancer Hope UK, who are dedicated to the care of children with cancer and their families in Africa, in the tragic crash of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 from Addis Ababa to Nairobi earlier this month.

Jayne Kamau, Bella Jaboma and Dr. Grace Kariuki were traveling back home after attending a biennial continental conference of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP), Africa, held in Cairo, Egypt, when their plane crashed just six minutes after takeoff from Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia.

Jayne Kamau worked as a child life specialist at Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital with children who had retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer that is normally treated by removal of one or both eyes. In first world countries, retinoblastoma has a survival rate of around 95%, but in Africa this is much lower, partly due to later diagnosis of children. Kamau had been in Cairo presenting  a poster on her work with retinoblastoma patients and their families.

“Jayne was the center of the team in Kenya working with patients and their families. She could connect with anyone, be with anyone and make them feel respected and listened to,” said Morgan Livingstone, a certified child life specialist and Director of Child Life at charity World Eye Cancer Hope and Jayne’s mentor.

In Africa, there isn’t a lot of psychosocial support for children with cancer and their families, and outcomes are pretty bad. Jayne was able to talk about everything with families, including difficult topics like death and end of life care when needed,” said Livingstone.

Bella Jaboma worked as a coordinator for the charity Hope for Cancer Kids at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and was also at the conference in Cairo.

Livingstone describes how there was a planned education program for U.S. students training to be child life specialists to train with Kamau and Jaboma at the hospitals they worked at in Kenya.

“We were in touch every single day at the conference organizing this program. We were just finalizing it,” said Livingstone.

Abby White, voluntary chief executive of the charity, said: “Jayne and Bella were our best hope to bringing sustainable child life programmes to Nairobi. There are very few doctors in oncology in Kenya and so losing Dr Kariuki is a massive loss. We made an amazing amount of progress with them and to lose all three of them together is heartbreaking.”

The third Kenyan childhood cancer specialist was Dr. Grace Kariuki, who was working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health on initiatives to improve cancer care across Kenya. In particular, she was working on a project to look at the cost and cost-effectiveness of childhood cancer treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital with a view to developing better treatment strategies for children with cancer.

“Grace had traveled to Cairo, Egypt, for a meeting of the study collaborators that was held on 6 March 2019. Her input into the study will be sorely missed. May her soul rest in eternal peace,” said Jessie Githang’a, Professor in the department of human pathology at The University of Nairobi and leader of the research project Dr Kariuki was working on.

She had recently been awarded a prestigious studentship to work on a partnership project with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the U.K. and the Kenya Medical Research Institute and was described as a “rising star in her field” by her peers.

The Center for Disease Control Kenya paid tribute to Dr Kariuki on Twitter. ” We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing our colleague Dr. Grace Kariuki in the #EthiopianAirlines crash. Dr. Kariuki was passionate about the #epidemiology of #NCDs and a graduate of the @KenyaFELTP. Our condolences to daktari’s family, friends and colleagues.

This is a huge loss to a very emerging field in Kenya. To lose Jayne as the leader in child life in pediatric oncology is devastating. Bella was our entire plan for this work in Nairobi, and Dr. Grace worked with all of us in Nairobi to improve pediatric cancer care and to advocate for better. Kenya lost an entire pediatric oncology team,” said Livingstone.

The Little Fighters Cancer Trust mourns the loss of these incredible women and their dedication to children with cancer in Africa, and sends deepest condolences to the Families, Colleagues and Loved Ones – the world is a poorer place without them and they will not be forgotten.

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