From the computer to the community: Promoting cancer and radiotherapy awareness in Ghana

AndrewDonkor

Andrew Donkor, BSc MSc Doctoral Candidate, IMPACCT (Improving Palliative, Aged and Chronic Care through Clinical Research and Translation), Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney NSW Australia; and National Centre for Radiotherapy, Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital, Ghana

Whether for curing, controlling or improving quality of life of patients, radiation therapy plays an essential role in cancer treatment. Imagine that you are providing cancer care in a country where public knowledge about cancer and radiation therapy is very limited. Cancer is on the rise in Ghana and prematurely kills 12 thousand citizens yearly. However, unlike the 28 African countries without a radiotherapy facility, Ghana has two in Accra and one in Kumasi. Since 2010, I have been an essential member of the radiation oncology multidisciplinary team planning and delivering radiation therapy to more than 1000 cancer patients per year. My experience is strongly influenced by the relationship I built with the several cancer patients. As a radiation therapist, I had a close interaction with patients during their treatment journey, which can last for about six weeks.

One of the most important moments in my life as a radiation therapist has been educating cancer patients. However, education should not be confined to the hospital setting. As long as there is no implemented national cancer awareness programme, fear will continue to guide Ghanaians. In a time of fear and misinformation, can a radiation therapist lead and direct health promotion and education campaign to empower individuals? In 2010, applying local knowledge, I created a local solution – AD-Cancer Awareness (ACA) initiative – to demystify cancer and radiation therapy. The initiative is underpinned by two principles: i) the combined efforts of several enthusiastic health professionals and community organisations can provide knowledge, skills and information to individuals to make informed health decisions; ii) financial support can be provided by community structures, such as churches and educational institutions, to facilitate and sustain the campaign.

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With our educational model, we have adopted several strategies including learning opportunities for groups and individuals using local and culturally appropriate language; media engagement; posters and flyers; videos to explain the biological concept of cancer and radiation therapy process; and one-on-one medical consultations with individuals to help them prioritise their health concerns and the necessary approach to take. ACA initiative has provided a platform for radiation therapists and other health professionals to step beyond the screens to better inform and educate Ghanaians about cancer and radiation therapy.

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It is time we move the ACA initiative to the next level by engaging GPs at regional and district hospitals with cancer and radiation therapy information as they are the first point of contact for most patients. Many simple and innovative strategies in high income countries are transferable to low and middle-income countries. For example, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) has created a novel initiative – Targeting Cancer – to make radiotherapy knowledge and information available to GPs and patients. Targeting Ghanaian health professionals with evidence-based radiotherapy information is imperative to ensure understanding of the inseparable role of radiation therapy in cancer treatment. A Handy Online Information Sharing System (HOISS) will be invaluable to GPs so they can easily access and view radiotherapy material regardless of their location at any time. HOISS will provide up-to-date information on all aspect of radiotherapy. With broader global and national collaborations, ACA-HOISS approach can help view health organisation and community education in a completely new light.