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Six out of ten: Ukrainian doctors save less than half of all children afflicted with cancer

November 30, 2006, 0:00 2546 Author: Olha Pokotylo The Day, Ukrainian newspaper

Every year the reception room at the outpatient department of the Institute of Oncology run by the Academy of Medical Sciences of Ukraine receives 2,500-3,000 children suspected of having cancer. Although only a fraction of these blood-curdling suspicions is confirmed, the institute annually hospitalizes 400-500 children with serious malign neoplasms that include all oncological pathologies except for leukoses and endocrine tumors. Each of these terrible illnesses deforms a young life in its own way. This happened to 18-year-old Vitaliy from Kirovohrad.

Vitaliy is a slender, good-looking boy, but a bit pale. He was hospitalized in April 2005 and underwent surgery later that fall at the children’s department of the Institute of Oncology. His next operation will be performed on Monday, when his leg will be amputated.

On World Childhood Cancer Day, another Vitaliy, the celebrated boxer Klychko, rhythmic gymnast Kateryna Serebrianska, the little chipmunk from the magazine Piznaiko, and journalists visited the clinic to bring encouragement to this boy and the other patients of the children’s ward.

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL

Were it not for the daily schedule hanging at the entrance to the ward and people wearing white smocks and gauze masks, one could not distinguish this place from an ordinary kindergarten. It is warm, light, and cozy here. The walls are hung with awards, greetings, and pictures; charming little children are drawing and painting something at a large table among papers and colors under the supervision of mothers, grannies, and staff. They run about, laugh, and stare at the unexpected guests. But every door has a list of mandatory treatments on it, and the thin little arms show the telltale marks of IV drips.

The little patients really have no time to be sad: in addition to medical treatment, the institute’s doctors offer an extensive educational and recreation program. Recreation for the children is provided by the Ukrainian Open Association of Organizations, Groups, and Individuals Caring for Cancer-Afflicted Children; volunteer, civic, and charitable organizations in Ukraine and Europe, and individuals. For example, this year the little ones celebrated St. Valentine’s Day. Early in the morning the staff decorated the wards and corridors with balloon supplied by sponsors, and during the day the clinic welcomed the clown Ronald MacDonald.

A ward nurse described the festivities: “The rooms were full of those hearts — solid clusters under the ceiling, with little ribbons. It was like a fairy-tale grotto! And there was a huge cake, and that clown. You just can’t imagine how happy the kids were! This is our first holiday like this, and we must do it again and again.”

Iryna Brusylovska, a representative of the volunteer organization Next to You, which also helps sick children, said that a Love Day is not the only festivity being instituted in the children’s ward. “We are planning the program for another event, Birthday Boy/Girl. This will be a major celebration with gifts, surprises, and guests. We did our best to make St. Valentine’s Day a really happy occasion, and we succeeded. Sometimes it is enough to smile, press a hand, pat a child on the head, and they feel better.”

PROTECTION FROM EARLY CHILDHOOD ILLNESSES

“After a diagnosis has been made, treatment is usually administered at home,” says Dr. Serhiy Pavlyk, who heads the children’s ward. “But if they are not sufficiently equipped or if chemotherapy is required, the child is sent to Kyiv.”

An average of three childhood cancer cases are recorded every day in Ukraine, and the number of child patients has risen by 2.5 times in the past five years. According to the Institute of Oncology’s statistics, solid neoplasms account for 54 percent of cancerous diseases in children. In schoolchildren aged 14 and below, leukoses top the list with 33 percent, followed by malignant tumors of the nervous system. Elsewhere in the world, eight out of ten children can be cured of cancer. In Ukraine, six out of ten children die. Malignant tumors are the fifth leading cause of death in children aged four and under, while among older children they are second after accidents.

Diagnosing tumors in children is considerably complicated by the fact that a child cannot always clearly explain complaints and sensations, while pediatricians are not vigilant enough about cancer: in the absence of a visible tumor, other symptoms may develop, which can be attributed to the usual children’s somatic and infectious maladies. Besides, even this country’s principal cancer center sometimes fails to make correct diagnoses.

According to Dr. Pavlyk, in the past year Ukrainian and foreign sponsors have markedly intensified their activities, when the media began to focus more attention on childhood cancer. The institute continues to be funded by the national programs “Oncology” and “Children of Ukraine.” However, the children’s ward is provided with only 70 percent of the required drugs. Even if a child has been cured free of charge, it is up to the parents to buy expensive medicines to keep the child well. In addition, the procurement of required equipment is practically not being funded.

The clinic obtains some funds through charitable donations. Last fall about 60 pictures drawn by young patients were auctioned off, and the proceeds were added to the clinic’s budget. Potential donors should not wait for specific kinds of charitable actions: the Institute of Oncology is ready to accept help at any time.

#5, Tuesday, 21 February 2006

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