THE YCEO: The African Childhood Cancer Specialists Lost On Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 - THE YCEO

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THE YCEO: The African Childhood Cancer Specialists Lost On Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302

The African Childhood Cancer Specialists Lost On Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302
Three Kenyan women who specialized in the care of children with cancer were among the passengers on Ethiopian Airlines flight 302, returning home after a conference.

Jayne Kamau, Bella Jaboma and Dr Grace Kariuki had been travelling back home to Kenya after a meeting of The Society of Pediatric Oncology in Africa meeting held in Cairo, Egypt when their plane crashed just six minutes after take-off from Addis Ababa airport in Ethiopia.

"Several healthcare workers dedicated to the care of children with cancer and their families in Africa were among the 157 people killed in the tragic crash of the flight from Addis Ababa to Nairobi," read the statement from the Society of Pediatric Oncology on their website.

Jayne Kamau worked as a child life specialist at Moi University and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital with children who had retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer which is normally treated by removal of one or both eyes. In countries like the U.S., retinoblastoma has a survival rate of around 95%, but in Kenya this is much lower, partly due to later diagnosis of children. Kamau had been in Cairo presenting  a poster on her work with retinoblastoma patients and their families.


"Jayne was the center of the team in Kenya working with patients and their families. She could connect with anyone, be with anyone and make them feel respected and listened to," said Morgan Livingstone, a certified child life specialist and Director of Child Life at charity World Eye Cancer Hope and Jayne's mentor.

In North America, it would be essentially unheard of for a family going through the incredibly difficult experience of  a childhood cancer diagnosis to not have substantial support from professionals in the hospital, but in many parts of the world, this isn't the case.

"In Africa, there isn't a lot of psychosocial support for children with cancer and their families and outcomes are pretty bad. Jayne was able to talk about everything with families including difficult topics like death and end of life care when needed," said Livingstone.

Bella Jaboma worked as a coordinator for the charity Hope for Cancer Kids at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi and was also at the conference in Cairo

 Livingstone describes how there was a planned education program for U.S. students training to be child life specialists to train with Kamau and Jaboma at the hospitals they worked at in Kenya.

"We were in touch every single day at the conference organizing this program. We were just finalizing it," said Livingstone.

The third Kenyan childhood cancer specialist was Dr Grace Kariuki, who was working with the Kenyan Ministry of Health on initiatives to improve cancer care across Kenya. In particular, she was working on a project to look at the cost and cost-effectiveness of childhood cancer treatment at Kenyatta National Hospital with a view to developing better treatment strategies for children with cancer.

"Grace had traveled to Cairo, Egypt, for a meeting of the study collaborators that was held on 6 March 2019. Her input into the study will be sorely missed. May her soul rest in eternal peace," said Jessie Githang'a, Professor in the Department of Human Pathology at The University of Nairobi and leader of the research project Dr Kariuki was working on.

She had recently been awarded a prestigious studentship to work on a partnership project with the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in the UK and the Kenya Medical Research Institute and was described as a "rising star in her field" by her peers.

The Center for Disease Control Kenya paid tribute to Dr Kariuki on Twitter

"This is a huge loss to a very emerging field in Kenya. To lose Jayne as the leader in child life in pediatric oncology is devastating. Bella was our entire plan for this work in Nairobi and Dr Grace worked with all of us in Nairobi to improve pediatric cancer care and to advocate for better. Kenya lost an entire pediatric oncology team," said Livingstone.

The author will be donating her fee and any proceeds from the publication of this story to World Eye Cancer Hope in memory of the three women.

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