Profile: Dr Gwenda Anga, Fellow Children’s Cancer Centre

“Cancer is one of the top ten causes of hospital admissions for children in Papua New Guinea, and it has a survival rate of less than 20%. But we don’t have accurate figures for how many children have cancer and how many survive. This is for two main reasons; some cancer patients are wrongly diagnosed so they are not recognised as having cancer. And we don’t have a national registry for childhood cancers. I have two diaries that I have handwritten for Port Moresby General Hospital but we don’t have this record for other provinces in PNG.

“Cancer care in PNG is very basic, from the diagnosis to the care we can offer patients, because our health system is overwhelmed by more common preventable and treatable diseases.

“After caring for most of the children with cancer in Port Moresby General Hospital for 2 years, I worked as a fellow training with Professor Francoise Mechinaud and Michael Sullivan to learn more about cancer diagnosis and treatment. I am now the first paediatrician in Papua New Guinea to specialise in oncology and take care of all the children with cancer in Port Moresby, and advise paediatricians in other provinces when they have such patients.

“I had an all-round experience so I could go back and provide comprehensive care for our children. At the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) I did consultations, assisted with lumbar punctures and bone marrow aspirates, gave chemotherapy, learned how to identify cancerous cells under the microscope and how to provide the best palliative care for children who won’t survive cancer. Unfortunately in PNG, many cancer patients come to the hospital in the later stages of the disease when it is too late to treat. These patients need good quality palliative care, and their families need care also. Nutritional support is very important for patients who are going through cancer therapy, and this is another one of the things we can improve in PNG.

“From this experience, I designed protocols modelled on the basic supportive care provided for patients at the RCH and have taken them back home to improve our care of children with cancer.”

For more information about International Medical Graduates, contact the Medical Workforce Unit.

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