Our second full day in Dhaka was busy and challenging. It is hard to put into words the emotions you go through when visiting our projects but I shall try.
The Ashic Palliative Care Unit was set up in 1994 by Salma Choudhury in memory of her son Ashic, who sadly was unable to obtain care for his cancer diagnosis and passed away.
They have two main locations. The first specialises in retinal blastoma - cancer of the eyes. It has 9 beds and administers chemotherapy for underprivileged children. Their other main location provides accommodation for children undergoing palliative care in Dhaka's hospitals who would otherwise be unable to afford to stay in Dhaka for the treatment.
When we visited the treatment centre we met 3 young patients who were undergoing chemotherapy for various stages of eye cancer. Sinja was just over 1. His cancer had been caught early and the chemotherapy, if successful might save his eye and prevent the need for surgery.
Maryam was 5. She had already undergone surgery in her right eye and was having intravenous chemo. She was obviously not feeling well and understandably didn't want to engage with us. She was very sad and upset.
Then there was Yaya. He was just 3 years old. It was shocking to see his tumor extending from his eye. It will stay with me for a long time. It is a situation that simply would just not be allowed to develop in the western world but in Bangladesh, a combination of lack of education, little medical screening and poverty combine to produce situations where diseases are left to fester and spread. Yaya was clearly not well but he was lively and delighted with the toy car we gave him. The chemo he was undergoing was an attempt to stop the cancer spreading whilst he awaited surgery. He would be losing his eye but the doctors hoped it would not spread and his other eye could be saved.
Ashic provides this care either free or discounted. Sadly, there is just too much demand and not enough funds for all treatments to be completely free but, where funds allow, the chemotherapy is offered to poor families at a fraction of the true cost. The centre also often provides free transport for children from outside of Dhaka who would otherwise be unable to afford to attend.
All of this isn't cheap. The Orphan Trust provides funds to pay the salary of one of the doctors at the unit which helps to subsidise treatment charges. The main expense for families though is the cost of the chemotherapy drugs themselves. They are 10,000 takka per session which is about £83. Each child will need a minimum of 6 treatments but some, with more advanced cancer, will need up to 18 treatments. So the minimum cost is £500 but can be up to £1,500. These are enormous sums for poor families to find when the average salary per year in Bangladesh is under £500. This is why the unit sees many cases where treatment has been delayed on not completed and so the cancer has spread to both of the child's eyes.
The unit treats around 30 children each month but the demand is much much more than that. Unfortunately, without any Government funding, the numbers have to be restricted.
We were then taken to Ashic's palliative care unit which has 20 beds and offers a safe place to stay for children and one of their parents to stay which is close to the hospital where treatment and surgery is being undertaken. Without the facilities and dedicated staff, families would not be able to afford to visit Dhaka for treatment and so their child's cancer would spread unchecked. The ward offers not only a place to stay but also somewhere for children to play and sadly often provides end of life care.
We would like to continue to support Ashic through doctor sponsorship but also treatment sponsorship. If you are interested to sponsor 2 chemotherapy treatments, it would cost just £15 per month. If 3 people can do this, that is enough to give chemotherapy treatment for one child. We left them with some of the Lego sets donated to us but please help us to continue to support this amazing place.