Irish doctor says funds urgently needed for Tanzanian children

Dr Trish Scanlan says Covid-19 crisis has put huge strain on service to provide free chemotherapy

An Irish paediatrician working in Tanzania is urgently trying to raise funds to ensure children with cancer can continue to be treated during the Covid-19 crisis.

Dr Trish Scanlan, originally from Co Wicklow, has been developing the National Children's Cancer Service from Muhimbili National Hospital since she moved there in 2007. She established the Their Lives Matter charity in 2011 which helps to fund the service.

Dr Scanlan said the service’s annual budget of €500,000 is close to being already spent due to Covid-19.

“The problem is everything is much more expensive now. Price gouging is just unbelievable and we’ve gotten in extra sinks, PPE, hand sanitisers, extra food and additional staff,” she told The Irish Times.


“I can see basically 13 years of a programme that’s just grown and grown and been more and more sophisticated with the kids and the treatments we’re able to offer...The risk is that this is not going to be able to be sustainable.”

The service provides free chemotherapy for children and has increased survival rates of those presenting from less than 10 per cent to over 50 per cent.

The number of children presenting and receiving treatment has also increased from about 120 to more than 700 each year.

Dr Scanlan said if extra funding can’t be secured “we’re going to run out of chemo”.

“People will work for free for a certain length of time but life is tough here. If we can’t pay our salaries, people will go hungry,” she said.

“If we don’t have chemo and the high-tech antibiotics that we need to nurse them [the children] through the consequences of chemo, we’ll just have to stop so children will die.”

Dr Scanlan said there has been an outbreak of coronavirus on her ward, with 18 confirmed cases. She said one of her patients who had the virus and was sent to an isolated unit subsequently died.

‘Close eye’

“It’s not hitting the children as hard, none of our children are particularly unwell. We did have one child who died which was the reason why we stopped sending the patients as much as we could to the Covid hospital. They probably needed something like antibiotics or a blood transfusion, we’ll never know, ” she added.

“Our kids are oncology patients and they’re actively on chemotherapy and they need special treatment even if they’re not very sick. They need a very close eye kept on them because they could get a fever, or their haemoglobin could drop and they need a blood transfusion.”

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Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times