Twelve-year-old Joseph lives in Nyampulukano, which is a small town in the Sengerema District of the Mwanza Region in northern Tanzania. In November 2012, he experienced low-grade fevers accompanied by abdominal discomfort. Joseph was taken to the nearby health facility, where he was treated for malaria and worms. Although his fever subsided, there was no relief from his abdomen pain, which became distended.
Joseph’s parents are a primary school teacher and a businessman, which gave the family some financial freedom. They brought their son to a referral hospital, where he was admitted for about three weeks. He was treated as a heart patient, but his symptoms did not improve. In December 2012, Joseph and his parents made the trip to Muhimbili National Hospital (1,200 km from home) to seek other treatment. After several investigations, the heart problem was ruled out and he was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. BL is a highly aggressive childhood cancer that can be fatal within weeks if not treated properly. However, the success rates are very high with chemotherapy once the cancer is detected. After just two of the six treatment cycles, there was a marked improvement.
Joseph is in Class 7, which is the equivalent to eighth grade in the United States, and enjoys school. When he couldn’t attend classes, he asked his friends to bring him notes for reading and studying. That hunger for education and his diagnosis inspired him to want to become a doctor.
“Being sick for quite some time, I have experienced what patients are going through, having to travel long distances to hospitals, waiting on long queues for one doctor to attend to you, and the lack of thoughtfulness among some of the health workers,” he said. “I want to reduce these patients’ sufferings.”
His mother, Martha, agrees. She has urged IMA World Health and the Tanzanian Government to train more competent health workers, so that her son’s situation wouldn’t occur again. She hopes that BL will be detected earlier and managed better. Martha also suggested hospitals or health centers providing such services closer to their homes because of the financial constraints of many citizens.