Ethiopia Pediatric Oncology Program: New Clinical Director and Progress

The last month has been a busy one for the Ethiopia Pediatric Oncology Project, in which INCTR-USA has joined forces with Georgetown University Medical Center, the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, and the country’s leading medical school and teaching hospital to improve overall pediatric cancer care in the country. INCTR-USA President, Dr. Aziza Shad, has assembled a Steering Committee of pediatric oncologists and nurses who have been working on Fellowship training curricula in pediatric oncology and nursing for over two years. In March, Dr. Shad and INCTR-USA Board Member Mary Louise Cohen held discussions with Dr. Anu Agrawal, a pediatric oncologist and member of Texas Children’s Global Health Corps, and Dr. Agrawal has agreed to join the project as the clinical director of the ward in Addis Ababa which will become and the focal point in-country for the pediatric oncology fellowship, set to begin in September. Dr. Agrawal’s presence full-time in Addis will help drive the project’s progress and ensure that the Fellows have intensive, practical training year-round, in addition to visiting faculty visits.

Dr. Agrawal is a graduate of the Baylor College of Medicine, and trained in pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital and Research Center in Oakland, California. Before returning to Oakland Children’s Hospital to undertake a fellowship in pediatric hematology/oncology, Dr. Agrawal joined the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Corps program in 2007 for a year in Lesotho. His commitment to global children’s health most recently led him to accept an assignment with the Texas Children’s Global Health Corps in Botswana. His international experience and belief in the core principles of the INCTR-USA’s efforts in Ethiopia make him an ideal candidate to take on this very important role in the project.

Prior to their trip to Ethiopia, Dr. Shad and Ms. Cohen attended the SIOP Africa Conference in Cape Town, South Africa. Among the conference’s invited faculty was Julia Challinor, RN, PhD, and member of the INCTR Oncology Nursing Program. Dr. Challinor, a Steering Committee member for the project in Ethiopia, spoke in a plenary session about the importance of nurses as agents for change in pediatric oncology units. Her talk was complemented by that of the head nurse of the Black Lion pediatric oncology ward, Sister Aster Kibert, which took place the following day. Sister Aster’s talk, “An Old Tradition with New Benefits: Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony,” was a moving, informative presentation on the utilization of the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony for patients’ parents and nurses to share stories, concerns, and questions in a space distinct from the pressures of the ward. She emphasized the value of a nurse-led initiative in the provision of important psychosocial support and to fill the gaps in this regard, where hospital resources are presently inadequate. In Ethiopia, Dr. Shad, Dr. Agrawal, Dr. Challinor, and Ms. Cohen joined Sister Aster and the parents in a coffee ceremony, and the INCTR-USA team was able to experience first-hand the sense of relief and calm that the activity provides to parents and nurses on the ward.

Picture: Sister Aster, head nurse on the infant oncology ward at Tikur Anbessa Hospital, delivering a talk at the SIOP Africa Conference

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