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New Pediatric Oncology Training Program Bridges the Gap for Kids in Africa

February 15, 2021
4 min read
Dr. Joseph Lubega

Dr. Joseph Lubega has big news — he’s bringing specialized pediatric cancer training to his home country of Uganda, thanks to his St. Baldrick’s International Scholar Grant and a partnership between Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital. Read on for more about the pioneering program and why it will be a lifesaver for kids with cancer in the region.

EXCITING UPDATE February 15, 2021: It’s been over four years since St. Baldrick’s International Scholar, Dr. Joseph Lubega, and the Global HOPE Program at Texas Children’s Hospital launched the first Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Fellowship Program in East Africa.

The Program, the first of its kind in the region, is making very broad and long-lasting impact: Fourteen pediatric oncologists have already graduated from the two-year program and they lead pediatric cancer care and research at nine different centers in four countries, seeing a total of more than 2500 new children with cancer annually.

The two current classes of ten trainees come from seven countries across Africa: Congo (DRC), Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, South Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Another impact of the Program has been the opening of an additional fellowship training program at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences in Tanzania. The second Program opened in November 2020 with 3 fellows and is led by Dr. Lulu Chirande, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist and graduate from the original program in Uganda.

It is very exciting to see that the initial investment by St. Baldrick’s Foundation in global pediatric oncology is producing leaders who are transforming access to quality pediatric cancer care in Africa. This is perhaps the best example of how the commitment of St. Baldrick’s Foundation’s donors can rapidly multiply to impact an enormous number of children and families worldwide,”

Dr. Joseph Lubega

Originally posted in 2016: Lack of diagnosis, poor care, staggering drug costs, a deficit in specialized medical training for doctors — all of these factors make survival rare for a kid with cancer in Africa.

But St. Baldrick’s researcher Dr. Joseph Lubega hopes to change that with a pioneering program that will train a new wave of East African pediatricians in children’s oncology and hematology.

Led by Dr. Lubega, the two-year East African Fellowship Training Program is not only the first pediatric oncology training program in the region — it’s the very first structured medical fellowship program, period.

Dr. Lubega explained that while most American doctors leave medical school and move straight into a fellowship program, in Uganda it’s different.

There, students will graduate medical school and start practicing right away. For Dr. Lubega to receive specialized training in pediatric oncology, he had to study outside of Africa, eventually beginning his fellowship nine years after leaving medical school.

That is what most doctors will go through to get properly trained, Dr. Lubega said.

The need for this program is massive, not only when it comes to the rare, specialized training —Dr. Lubega has already received applications for next year — but also because about 50 percent of East Africa’s population of 160 million people are kids under the age of 15, Dr. Lubega explained. When these kids get cancer, their options are sparse.

Shakina Lubega

Shakina, one of Dr. Lubega’s patients, battles kidney cancer with a smile and hope for her future. She wants to be a model some day.

“It’s really a large volume of patients and a need,” he said.

Launched earlier this month, the program already has four fellows, who will train in everything from typical bedside procedures in pediatric cancer to professional communication to research.

At the end of the two years, the fellows will be given an exam, on top of frequent evaluations throughout the program. If they pass, Dr. Lubega said, they’ll be recognized by the Ugandan Medical Council as specialists.

“Within two years we will have a total of four locally-grown specialists,” Dr. Lubega said. “We are trying to create a self-sustaining program.”

With the launch of the East African Fellowship Training Program, Dr. Lubega hopes to not only help kids with cancer in Africa, but to move the field forward in all developing countries.

“Without research, we’ll never do better,” he said. “Without good clinical care, you can do all the research you want and never help the patient. And without education, you’ll never have the people to do the research and do patient care.”

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