Paul Calvert spoke with Dr Mohammad Najajreh, from the Ministry of Health.

Caring For Children With Cancer In The Palestinian Territories

Paul Calvert spoke with Dr Mohammad Najajreh, from the Ministry of Health, about his work with children who have cancer in the Palestinian Territories.

Paul: Tell us about working for the Ministry Of Health.

Dr Najajreh: I am working with the Palestinian Ministry of Health, which is funded by the PCRF, the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund. We are working together. I am the Chairman of the Huda Masri Cancer Department and I am a paediatric oncologist haematologist.

Paul: Is this cancer unit just for children?

Dr Najajreh: Yes, this department is for children from ages 0 to 14 years old.

Paul: Is cancer quite common in children that age?

Dr Najajreh: No it is a rare disease in children. If we calculate yearly in Palestine, we diagnose from 250 to 300 children per year. Here in the south of Palestine, we diagnose in our centre about 70 children yearly.

Paul: What is the survival rate like for the Palestinian area?

Dr Najajreh: Before opening this department the event free survival for children with cancer was around 40%. Fortunately after opening the department and the training we did here, we have event free survival at around 80% and it is comparable to other European and American countries. It's a real success that we are proud of in our department. We will continue to improve further the survival and to start treating other diseases too.

Paul: How easy is it to treat children with cancer?

Dr Najajreh: It is easy and it is difficult. It is easy because you know that this child will survive, so you are not just giving cancer drugs and waiting for him to die; you are waiting for him to grow up without the disease and be healthy, so from this side it is easy. From the other side it's difficult, because you are dealing not just with a child, but you are dealing with the whole family. Children are not easy, but children are better than adults from the side effects of the drugs, so they can receive a high dose of chemotherapy without many complications. It is difficult in general, but we are satisfied from the results, so it is better to treat a child than an adult.

Paul: Do the children and the adults have to go through a lot of counselling when a child has cancer?

Dr Najajreh: Yes of course. We have social workers, psychologists and we are asking the Ministry of Health for more psychologists to give counselling to these children, to deal with these children and the parents. Actually here, the doctors and nurses are doing the job of psychologist. They need at the diagnosis, good counselling. Usually we sit with the parents and the children and we say what they have and we advise them what to do. When we say that the survival is very good with children with cancer, they accept the disease and the children feel more comfortable.

Paul: When a child goes through chemotherapy what exactly are they going through?