Teaming up to beat childhood cancer

  • Matt Hackworth
  • Jan 28, 2020

Angelina Muhimbana says the changes to her granddaughter, Lightness, came about swiftly.

“Lightness was one happy kid with a smile,” Muhimbana said. “She was always playing with her friends. Then the disease came, and suddenly Lightness became a different kid.”

The disease presented as a red, swollen eye. She took Lightness to three different hospitals near their home in Tanzania, only to receive little explanation and eye drops that did not help. The situation grew so severe the swelling sometimes pushed Lightness’s eye to the edge of its socket.  

“She was always crying and wanted to be carried all the time,” Muhimbana said.

Finally, a diagnosis and treatment plan

As a last resort, Muhimbana and her granddaughter traveled 300 miles from their home in Iringa to Dar es Salaam in search of answers.

Lightness found help at Muhimbili National Hospital, where IMA World Health and Lutheran World Relief have teamed up with Tumaini La Maisha, a local partner organization dedicated to supporting the hospital’s childhood cancer program. Through TLM’s work to improve early diagnosis and prompt treatment, survival rates for children with cancer in Tanzania have drastically improved — saving thousands of lives and counting.

Lightness was ultimately diagnosed with retinoblastoma and received treatment thanks to IMA World Health and Lutheran World Relief, whose support provides essentials like chemotherapy drugs and skilled medical staff.

A commitment to saving lives of children with cancer

Lightness is among the 1 in 5 children with cancer in Tanzania who get the chance to receive treatment for their illness. There are at least 4,000 new childhood cancer cases every year in Tanzania, and most cases go unrecognized or untreated. But not for long.

TLM’s goal is to expand pediatric oncology services across the country by 2030. With TLM as a partner, expanding the pediatric cancer program is one of the initial projects IMA World Health and Lutheran World Relief have supported jointly since coming together in 2019.

Grandmother and granddaughter, smiling again

Muhimbana said she was worried about the costs of Lightness’s treatment, as well as having to travel the long distance from her home, but Lightness received treatment free of charge. She also received nutritious meals and a place to stay with her grandmother during her inpatient treatment. This included removal of her affected eye due to her cancer’s advanced stage, but her grandmother says that hasn’t slowed her down.

“The treatment has helped to restore her old mood,” Muhimbana said. "Anyone can see her smile or hear her laughter whenever they are close to her."

Caption: Angelina Muhimbana holds her granddaughter, Lightness.