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Address at the Launch of the Fiji Childhood Cancer Awareness Month 2018.

July 20, 2018       Tanoa Plaza, Suva.

The co-founders of WOWS Kids Fiji, Mr. Taholo Kami and Mrs. Sina Kami;

The Acting Medical Superintendent of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Dr. James Fong;

The Head of Department of the Paediatric Unit, Dr. Ilisapeci Tuibeqa;

The Head of Surgery at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Dr. Josese Turagava;

The award-winning author of the Tropical Vegetarian cookbook, Mrs. Sadhna Wilson;

The staff of the Paediatric Oncology Unit;

Parents and children; and

Members of the Media.

Ni sa yadra vinaka, Namaste, Ma’alo Lelei and a very good morning to you all.

I wish to extend my sincere appreciation to WOWS Kids Fiji for inviting me to address you this morning at the launch of the 2018 Fiji Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which falls in the month of August.  

Although the International Childhood Cancer Month is in September, Fiji observes it one month early in August with its inaugural launch that happened last year. There is a very special reason why August was chosen as Fiji’s Childhood Cancer Month. On 16th August 2008, Ms. Tae Kami, daughter of the co-founders of WOWS Kids Fiji, Mr. Taholo Kami and Mrs. Sina Kami, succumbed to cancer of the sinus.  Tae was just 15 years old.  We remember the young Tae Kami and her unwavering battle with cancer. She is the inspiration for the establishment of WOWS Kids Fiji in August 2009, an affiliate of the Tae Kami Foundation in Tonga. 

Ladies and gentlemen, childhood cancer usually refers to all cancers occurring in children before 15 years of age. A report released in 2016 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) indicates that the global occurrence of childhood cancer may be significantly higher than previously thought. The report also reveals that there are an estimated 80,000 deaths annually from childhood cancer worldwide, and an increasing inequality in childhood cancer diagnosis and treatment between high-income and low-income countries. 

The grim reality is that about one in two of these children diagnosed with cancer is most likely to die. Despite the 80 percent survival rate of childhood cancers in developed countries, up to 80 percent of most children in developing countries will die due to the lack of proper medical care.

Following the recommendations of the International Society of Paediatric Oncology to concentrate resources in specialised paediatric cancer units, there is an emphasis on assistance and twinning of units in developing countries with established units in the developed or resource-rich countries. 

Fiji has established a twinning programme with the Christchurch Paediatric Oncology Centre in New Zealand. The twinning programme that was established in 2008, continues today with weekly teleconference with the Christchurch Oncology Unit in New Zealand providing our Paediatric Oncology Unit with expert advice. The Paediatric Oncologist from Christchurch also makes site visits at least twice in a year to the Colonial War Memorial Hospital, Lautoka General Hospital.   This year, visits will commence at the Labasa Hospital for familiarisation purposes and to convey to the staff members coping mechanisms when dealing with Paediatric Oncology cases.

I am pleased to hear that there has been a drastic reduction in the percentage of mortality of the treatable childhood cancers since the establishment of the twinning programme.  I have learned from Dr. Miri Tukana Thaggard, whose research is yet to be published, that the mortality rate of children diagnosed with childhood cancer has decreased from 70 percent to 30 percent since the twinning partnership. That is, indeed, a remarkable outcome. 

I would therefore, like to take this opportunity to thank the International Society of Paediatric Oncology for their advice and especially the Christchurch Paediatric Oncology Centre in New Zealand for their guidance and time taken to assist in the major hospitals in Fiji.   You have helped saved lives!  Thank you and vinaka vakalevu.   

In Fiji, the most common childhood cancer is Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, followed by brain tumor, and this is similar to the global trend in childhood cancer. Fiji diagnoses 20 to 30 new cases of childhood cancer each year. It is believed that there are more cases yet to be diagnosed.  So where are they? 

Creating awareness on childhood cancer is essential. Most childhood cancers are not caused by modifiable risk factors. It is, therefore, crucial that parents and guardians recognise early warning signs to ensure timely diagnosis, timely referrals, and proper treatment protocols. Early diagnosis can also assist in establishing other sicknesses in the child.

Ladies and gentlemen, this month-long public health campaign aims to create heightened awareness among adults to seek medical attention in a timely manner which would lead to better outcomes for their child. There are various awareness programmes organised for the month of August. Early signs posters will be placed at health centers and main hospitals around Fiji.  WOWS Kids Fiji will also have information booths during events such as the Vodafone Hibiscus Festival.  A walk and fun run event is scheduled for Lautoka and the Coral Coast. 

Members of the media will also play a critical role in disseminating factual information and spreading the awareness to each Fijian through radio talkback shows, newspapers, television, magazines, as well as through key social media platforms. I urge each and every Fijian to pay particular attention to the awareness materials that will be widely circulated. 

Health care, ladies and gentlemen, requires a multi-sectoral approach to ensure sustainability and collaborative effort to address critical health concerns. The support of the family is also very important to provide the spiritual, emotional, and psychological backing that the child needs.

I am informed that we are also receiving children from other Pacific Island countries for treatment in Fiji with the doctors indicating that this will become more common in the future as it would be relatively cheaper to send children to Fiji. We have two capable child cancer centers located at the Lautoka Hospital and the CWM Hospital in Suva, and Fiji has also demonstrated the ability to deliver more intensive treatment regimes for those cases that had been identified as non-treatable in a Pacific Island nation. 

Ladies and gentlemen, the greatest strength that the childhood cancer care in Fiji has is the establishment and continued bilateral relation it has with its twinning partners in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

I acknowledge the partners of WOWS Kids Fiji – Ministry of Health, Fiji Cancer Society, and the National Paediatric Oncology Committee, as well as corporate sponsors for your assistance.  I am pleased to see that the award-winning author of the cookbook – Tropical Vegetarian, Mrs. Sadhna Wilson, is present here this morning. Mrs. Wilson, thank you for supporting this cause. 

I also commend the work of WOWS Kids Fiji for the continued support to the families of children who have been diagnosed with childhood cancer. WOWS Kids Fiji is living Tae Kami’s dream. Among others, the organisation has provided inter-island travel support for family members traveling from the maritime zones, transportation on the mainland, meal vouchers, accommodation, medication costs, and some financial assistance for children requiring overseas treatment. 

Ladies and gentlemen, let us work together to ensure that our children receive the best health care support they can get. Remember that cancer does not discriminate, let us choose a healthy life!  

Let us continue to, Walk On. Walk Strong. And Walk together.

Vinaka vakalevu, thank you and may Almighty God continue to bless us all.