Project #9630

Cure 250 Children with Burkitt Lymphoma in Africa

by International Network for Cancer Research and Treatment (INCTR)
INCTR Working on the Ground at St Mary
INCTR Working on the Ground at St Mary's Hospital

Burkitt lymphoma (BL) is one of the most common childhood cancers in equatorial Africa.  BL is also one of the most aggressive cancers and is fatal if left untreated.  However, it is highly curable with chemotherapy alone.  Sadly, many children never reach specialized centers such as St Mary’s Hospital Lacor in Uganda or the Bugando Medical Center in Mwanza, Tanzania where treatment for this cancer is available.  There are many complex reasons for this.  Most of the families live in remote or rural regions that make travel to these hospitals difficult.  For these families, the costs of transportation alone can use up the entire family income for a year.  And, if they do seek medical help at district hospitals or clinics, often the personnel who see them do not recognize the signs of BL which results in delays in prompt referrals to these specialist hospitals.  When they do arrive at the specialist hospitals, they often have such advanced disease their chances of survival are low. And, for those patients who have a chance for cure, they rarely have sufficient funds to cover the costs of diagnosis and treatment without becoming completely impoverished.   Doctors generally only address their relationships with the patients who they treat and assume that intermittent unavailability of drugs and lack of social services are normal.  For these reasons, INCTR – in collaboration with these two hospitals – decided to address the broader issues pertinent to the care of BL such as ensuring that children are referred for treatment as soon as possible.  In the past few years, things have moved forward.  Because of your donations to this project, funds are available to provide treatment free of charge to the children.      

Alleviating the burden of the costs of treatment for the children and their families has enabled the staff to develop a comprehensive “model of care” for children with BL.  By a model, we mean to say that all aspects of high quality treatment, including all of the issues mentioned above are being addressed.  Efforts are on-going and include these examples:

  • Education and training of the staff at the two specialist hospitals in order to improve the overall quality of care delivered, including nursing care
  • Staff at district hospitals and clinics in the catchment areas of the specialist hospitals have been educated in the signs of BL and provided with referral guidelines for suspected cases
  • These two efforts have been greatly aided by the development of training tools for both staff at the specialist hospitals and at the district hospitals and clinics
  • Collaborations have been established with other local NGOs to provide services such as housing for patients and families in between treatment cycles, food, transportation to and from the hospitals, and home visits to ensure that the children are doing well after treatment
  • For the first time, the survival rate of patients treated by the two specialist hospitals can be calculated and the assumption that cancer is incurable is being overcome
  • The demonstration of high survival rates has greatly encouraged the health care providers and has even influenced younger doctors to train as oncologists whereas before oncology was viewed as end-of-life care
  • Public awareness through community out-reach – via antenatal clinics, childhood vaccination clinics and by going directly into the communities themselves to educate the general public about the curability of this cancer has been markedly enhanced so that more people are informed. This has led to more patients being referred earlier
  • Letting parents of children with BL participate in forums with the staff in order to have a voice in what can and needs to be done in order to ensure that the psychosocial care of children with this cancer or any other childhood cancer can be continuously improved.

INCTR became involved in the treatment of BL in 2004.  To date, more than 800 children have been treated.  Our project with Global Giving began in late 2010 and since that time, 350 children have benefited from your donations and have received the necessary chemotherapy drugs for their treatment.  Results are excellent - given the resources in most of the hospitals.  Overall, the cure rate is 62% for all centers combined, but at St Mary’s Hospital, it is over 70%. 

With your continued support, more can be done to constantly improve the results of treatment for these children and ensure that no child is excluded because of poverty. Because of your support, a new mind-set into tackling the broader scope of the problem at the level of the community as well as the hospital level has evolved. Involving district hospitals and clinics, dealing with the many psychosocial issues the families face, and getting the public involved – even in the villages where the families come from - will only increase these children’s chances of cure and ensure that they live long, normal and happy lives. Thank you again!

Philip with his Mother and Little Sister
Philip with his Mother and Little Sister

Philip was nearly 5 years old when he was brought to our hospital in June of 2011. Since his birth, he has lived in a hut with his parents, two brothers and a sister. Both of his parents are peasant farmers and were never able to complete basic primary school education. During the rainy season in 2011, Philip began to have swelling in his abdomen. This only began a few weeks before he came to St Mary’s Hospital. During this time, his abdominal swelling increased in size very quickly. By the time he was brought to our hospital by his mother, he had many large masses of tumor throughout his abdomen. He was also very weak and almost unable to walk. A biopsy was performed promptly which determined that he had Burkitt lymphoma. Therefore, chemotherapy was started promptly along with intensive supportive care due to the extent of his disease. Thankfully, he responded very well to treatment.

His mother understood that Philip’s Burkitt lymphoma could be fatal if he did not complete all planned treatment. She struggled, but managed to bring him on time for all of his planned treatment. Meanwhile, Philip’s father continued to work hard in the farming fields in order to sustain the entire family. In spite of having support for the costs of treatment, Philip’s mother – like other parents with children undergoing cancer treatment on our ward – had to find “day” work nearby the hospital in order to be able to have food for both of them. It is not uncommon or unusual that most parents of children undergoing cancer treatment on our ward need to find day work. And, they take turns looking after other parents’ children so that these parents can work, too.

Philip recently came back to see us at St Mary’s Hospital. He is 9 years old now. He is in excellent health and cured of his lymphoma. He has grown like a normal child. He is doing well in school, too. When he is not at school, he helps his parents to look after their vegetable garden so that they have enough to eat. His mother is very proud of him – because he is healthy, doing well in school and taking on family responsibilities – including looking after his little sister.

Donations such as the ones made by the many donors to this project have supported treatment costs, which, in turn have alleviated a large financial burden on parents such as Philip's.  Thanks to all who have given and to those who continue to give their support for this project!


Bernard was brought to the pediatric ward at St Mary’s Hospital Lacor on a very busy day in May, 2014.  We were making our ward rounds to check on all of the children.  The scene was very chaotic – the patients were hugging their mothers, others were lining up waiting to be seen by the doctors, other children were waiting to receive their chemotherapy and some of the children were playing while waiting for orders to be discharged.  Suddenly, a young man came onto the ward carrying four year old Bernard who was wrapped in a blanket and dropped him on a bed.  Bernard was in desperate need of medical care and all things were put to one side so that he could be assessed immediately. 

Bernard was shivering and barely conscious.  He was very malnourished.  He had generalized swelling all over his body - his abdomen was very distended and his face was deformed by large jaw masses on both sides of his face and swelling of the orbits of his eyes such that his eyes could not even be seen.  He was paralyzed.  Additionally, he had many ulcers in his legs and also one on his back that was so deep that we could see the surface of his bones.  These were also infected.  We worked him up as quickly as possible to prepare him for treatment for suspected Burkitt lymphoma.  

The young man who brought Bernard to us was asked questions by a nurse about how he came to be in such a condition.  We learned that Bernard had been living with relatives in a village in a very remote rural area.  After his father had died, his mother had re-married, but her new husband would not allow her to keep Bernard once she became pregnant with his child.  Bernard was then sent to live with his father’s relatives.  The young man who brought him to St Mary’s was his older brother.  He was told by the relatives that Bernard was dying so he went to see him, but he did not want to give up hope for his younger brother.  He took Bernard to our hospital on his motorcycle and they had to travel a long distance before reaching our hospital.   

Once Bernard was stabilized and his diagnosis was confirmed as Burkitt lymphoma, we started chemotherapy.  We had to reduce the initial doses of chemotherapy given to him because of his poor kidney function.  We monitored him very closely before and after we started treatment – knowing any let up in surveillance could result in complete renal failure and death.  Even with all of these precautions, we were not sure if we could save little Bernard.  Within a few days of starting treatment, the swelling all over his body began to decrease as did the masses in his abdomen.  When the swelling in his face caused by the tumors in his jaws and in the orbits of his eyes disappeared, we learned that Bernard was blind from the pressure that his disease put on the nerve that controls vision.  He also started to become more alert, but one mystery we were unable to readily solve was that Bernard could not stop crying.  He would not talk to us, he would only cry.  Because people from other regions in Uganda speak different languages, we were lucky to have a nurse who could speak his language.  It became clear to us that he wasn’t in pain, but being blind and paralyzed, he was scared and all he wanted was his mother. 

Through generous donations made to this project, we located his mother and provided the funding for her to come to St Mary’s Hospital to be with her little boy.  When she came, Bernard stopped crying – her voice and her touch comforted this very frightened little boy.  

Bernard stayed with us at the hospital for the entire duration of his treatment and a bit longer to allow the pressure sores to heal completely and to receive physical therapy.  In spite of his very advanced disease and all the complications he faced, he responded to treatment very well and gained weight.  He could even sit without support and was able to feed himself again.  He started to see some shadows and lights, but he never regained the use of his legs – the damage caused by the tumor was irreparable.  He liked to hear music being played on a radio which made us all happy. 

Just this month, Bernard came back to us for a follow up visit.  He was in complete remission at one year from the start of his initial treatment – relapses are extremely rare after this time. Sadly, Bernard was not able to return to live with his mother, but with support, his brother and his wife took Bernard to live with them and he is cared for very well.  

A child such as Bernard who was extremely poor was able to be treated for free thanks to generous donations made to this project.  But, his story taught us that we need to be able to do more to prevent children from coming to us with such advanced disease by educating people in the rural villages about the signs of this highly curable cancer.  It brought home to us that there are many social factors that can impact any sick child such as living with distant relatives with no financial means for transportation to a far away hospital and other children to care and provide for.  Without his brother’s intervention, Bernard would surely have died.  If Bernard had been brought to us sooner, he probably would be walking and playing like any other 5 year old boy.  But, in spite of everything, Bernard is happy and free of cancer. 

Because we are able to provide free treatment through generous donations made to this project, we can also focus on the other needs these very poor families of children with Burkitt lymphoma have.  Thanks to all of you who have given and continue to give to this project!  

Safina's Baby Girl

At the age of only 17 years old, Safina developed swelling in both of her breasts.  In July of 2012, she sought help at a regional hospital.  The doctors suspected that she had advanced breast cancer.  They performed a bilateral matectomy and she was discharged home, but without a histological diagnosis.  Several weeks later, Safina developed masses in her surgical scars.  In October of 2012, she was referred to our hospital-  St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor-  for a biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis of Burkitt lymphoma.  This cancer is curable by chemotherapy.  Surgery alone is not the correct treatment for this cancer because removal of all tumor by surgery is rarely possible and even if it can be removed, chemotherapy is always needed.  While breast involvement is uncommon, it occurs primarily in pubertal girls or pregnant women.  

When Safina came to us for her biopsy, her cancer had not only come back in her surgical scars, but was also found in her abdomen.  Because our hospital is able to provide free treatment for Burkitt lymphoma, thanks to generous donors who contribute to this project, we started chemotherapy and Safina improved promptly.  After three cycles of chemotherapy, Safina wanted to go home for a break at Christmas.  Unfortunately, she did not come back to complete the rest of her treatment.  We thought that this might be because she could not find the money for transportation or because she felt very well and thought she did not need any more treatment.  All of our attempts to contact her failed as the phone number that she gave us was no longer in service.    

In July of 2013, Safina returned to us. She was having excessive vomiting and was very weak.  We did an ultrasound which revealed that Safina was 28 weeks pregnant, but that her Burkitt lymphoma had returned in her abdomen which was displacing the baby.  We did a biopsy of the mass in her abdomen to definitively confirm that her cancer had come back.  This was necessary because Safina was expecting a baby and we had to plan carefully how best to treat her.   

In a poor resource setting like ours, we could not provide a safe delivery of her baby at this stage in her pregnancy – 28 weeks of gestation.   Since the tumor was progressing fast, it was threatening Safina’s life and that of her baby.  Safina was counseled about receiving chemotherapy during pregnancy – it is safe to give most chemotherapy agents required for treating Burkitt lymphoma in the last trimester of pregnancy.  And, we knew we had to start treatment as soon as possible to save both of their lives.  We chose effective drugs that would cause as little harm as possible to her unborn baby.  Remarkably, Safina responded to treatment and the masses in her abdomen reduced in size.  

Safina’s baby girl was delivered by Cesarian section at 36 weeks of gestation.  The baby was healthy.  Safina continued treatment after the birth of her baby.  And, we were fortunate to have support to buy costly milk formula for the baby as Safina was unable to breast feed her baby – due to the bilateral mastectomy and also because she was on chemotherapy.  Safina stayed in the hospital for the entire duration of her chemotherapy – even after her baby was born.   

When Safina came for follow up in January, she brought her baby.  We are pleased to say that Safina is in complete remission and that her baby is walking, playing and beginning to talk calling Safina her “Ma Ma”.  

The story of Safina has taught us once more, how important it is for us to raise awareness and to educate other health care professionals in our region (Northern Uganda) about Burkitt lymphoma so patients can be diagnosed and treated as soon as possible at a hospital like ours.  By doing this, we hope that other patients like Safina will never need to undergo unnecessary surgery and will not suffer delays in starting appropriate treatment.  Her story also taught us how important it is to sustain our patients by providing free treatment and the necessary social support throughout treatment.  We realize that we must continually educate our patients and their families to ensure good adherence to treatment.  

Without the donations from the many people who have contributed to this project, it would not have been possible for us to save the lives of both Safina and her baby girl.  We at St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor who care for the children and adolescents with Burkitt lymphoma wish to express our gratitude and appreciation for your continued support of this project. 

Two Happy Boys After Treatment
Two Happy Boys After Treatment

Dr. Roberto Ferrara, an INCTR faculty member, recently spent three weeks on the children’s cancer ward at St. Mary’s Hospital, Lacor in Uganda to work on INCTR’s on-going project in Burkitt lymphoma. The hospital sees 80 new children with this cancer a year, but sadly many come too late with such advanced disease that they cannot be treated effectively. St. Mary’s Hospital is the only major center in Northern Uganda able to treat this type of cancer. Because their results are so promising – over 70% of children who reach the hospital in time are cured, Dr. Ferrara assisted the staff and parents of children in creating an educational film about Burkitt lymphoma. This will be widely distributed to health care personnel and the public in the region.  

The film was made in the local language, Acholi. Dr. Felix Bongamyn, an intern in training in pediatrics at St Mary’s, underlined the importance of early diagnosis. As Dr. Felix stated, “without specific treatment, Burkitt lymphoma can progress very quickly and the child can die in a few weeks”. He went on to say that “even a few days can make a difference” to a child’s outcome so that it is important not to delay coming to the hospital for treatment as soon as initial signs are noticed. He emphasized that Burkitt lymphoma is not caused by an “evil spirit” – as many Africans believe, nor is it a punishment for failing to appease a tribal God. It is a cancer that can be cured, if diagnosed and treated as soon as possible.    

Sister Claire, the nurse who cares for the children, spoke to parents about the need for their children to complete all planned treatment in order to have the best chance for long-term survival. Parents whose children were successfully treated recounted their personal experiences. One father told the story of how his child was paralyzed as a result of Burkitt lymphoma, but after treatment, the child could walk again.

Volunteers like Dr. Ferrara, who assist doctors, nurses and parents to “get the message out” that Burkitt lymphoma can be cured, are a valuable resource to this project. And, without the dedication of the staff at St. Mary’s Hospital and without their willingness – along with parents of children affected by this cancer - to participate in the production of the film, such a powerful and effective way of “spreading the word” to others in Northern Uganda would not have been possible. Most importantly, without your donations, the staff at St. Mary’s Hospital would not have been able to treat and cure so many children with Burkitt lymphoma.  Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this project and given children with this cancer the hope for cure!


About Project Reports

Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.

If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating.

Get Reports via Email

We'll only email you new reports and updates about this project.

Organization Information

International Network for Cancer Research and Treatment (INCTR)

Location: Brussels - Belgium
Website: http:/​/​​
Project Leader:
Melissa Adde
Brussels, Brussels Belgium
$72,618 raised of $75,000 goal
412 donations
$2,382 to go
Donate Now Add Project to Favorites

Help raise money for this important cause by creating a personalized fundraising page for this project.

Start a Fundraiser

Learn more about GlobalGiving

Teenage Science Students
Vetting +
Due Diligence


Woman Holding a Gift Card
Gift Cards

Young Girl with a Bicycle

Sign up for the GlobalGiving Newsletter

WARNING: Javascript is currently disabled or is not available in your browser. GlobalGiving makes extensive use of Javascript and will not function properly with Javascript disabled. Please enable Javascript and refresh this page.