Each year in Uganda nearly 600 children are diagnosed with Burkitt lymphoma, a potentially fatal and disfiguring malignancy. It is the most common cancer found among Ugandan children and the average age at the time of diagnosis is 5. For medical oncologist Abrahams Omoding, M.D., the patient load is extensive yet resources for treatment are limited, a situation that contributes to a five-year survival rate of less than 40 percent. Yet Omoding and his colleagues at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala estimate that that 85 percent of these children can be cured for less than $600 a case.
"Parents often lack the funds to take their children to a doctor and many of our young patients arrive when the disease is advanced and the prognosis is grim," he said. "My colleagues and I are working to improve outcomes for these children, so I’m excited and optimistic to be returning to them with greater resources to draw from."
Following a year-long research fellowship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., USA, Omoding returned to Uganda in late August 2011 to the Uganda Cancer Institute to resume his post as a specialist registrar in medical oncology. Omoding is the fifth Ugandan oncologist to complete the Hutchinson Center’s HIV-Associated Malignancy Training Program, which is supplemented by funds from the University of Washington’s International AIDS Research Training Program. The program is part of an innovative collaboration forged by the Hutchinson Center and the Ugandan Cancer Institute: the UCI/Hutchinson Center Cancer Alliance.
Expanding and enhancing Omoding’s oncology and research skills is a key and vital step in the larger effort to reverse Uganda’s low cancer survival rates. In 2008, Uganda had only one oncologist who treated more than 10,000 patients annually. The Hutchinson Center’s training program is specifically tailored to bring improved care to Ugandan cancer patients, while enhancing the education of U.S. and Ugandan physician-scientists and enabling them to conduct cutting-edge research in infection-related cancers.
"A year’s worth of exposure to the latest developments in research, diagnosis and treatment allowed me to build on and strengthen my previous research and clinical experience," said Omoding, who focused his Seattle-based research on women with locally advanced HIV-associated cervical cancer. "I worked alongside internationally recognized oncologists and infectious diseases experts who specialize in cancers that are most common among my own patients, such as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphomas, liver cancers, leukemias, and Kaposi sarcoma. That experience was useful to me as I synthesize an approach that can be successfully applied in Uganda working with the resources available to me."
Omoding returned to the Uganda Cancer Institute as co-investigator for an ongoing program that combines research with diagnosis and treatment for patients suffering from Burkitt lymphoma. "It’s a particularly brutal disease for children to bear," he said. "The fast-growing malignant tumor, often developing in the jaw, is painful and makes it difficult to feed adequately, which leads to malnutrition and other complications."
Omoding is originally from eastern Uganda, yet as a teenager political instability forced his family to find refuge in the capital, Kampala. This is where he began his medical career a decade ago, at Makerere University. Dedicated to both young patients and a better understanding of HIV-associated cervical cancer in women, Omoding’s expertise is highly relevant in Uganda, which has among the highest cancer rates in the world and 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS.
"I’ve put most of my efforts into women and children," he added. "I believe they are critical to our society and Uganda’s future."
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