VICTOiR is a French charity that seeks to do humanitarian work. It has enabled the creation of the only paediatric oncology unit in Togo. The charity aims to improve and provide the funds for childhood cancer treatments and dedicated to implementing and sustaining the appropriate structures to provide such treatment.
Our Charity has its roots in the touching experience by the founding members.
In 2004, as three young French dentists we were doing humanitarian work in Lome, Togo, a little boy named Victor was brought in to the practice where we worked with a mouth cyst. It quickly turned out that the child was suffering from cancer of the jaw. We were horrified to discovered that there was not a single care centre in Togo that could treat childhood cancers. We were pressed for time to save Victor, but the child’s parents had limited means, the country couldn’t provide any health care system, and most of the medication needed for this treatment was not available.
Thanks to the local Togolese intern, a protocol was established. With the help of two more Togolese interns, we drove hundreds of kilometres through Togo, Benin and Ghana to find the necessary chemotherapy medication. We had provided the funds ourselves for the entire emergency. After many anxious months watching over Victor, we experienced the joy of having made a difference and helping save his life. His French name is Victor, and this was our first victory against cancer… Hence the name of our charity, VICTOiR, “victoire”-meaning victory in French! As for Victor, he has since grown into a healthy and beautiful teenager.
Unfortunately, during that same time, there was another child, Yao, who was brought in to the hospital with a similar cancer. Yao’s case was so advanced that it proved impossible to cure him. The child died before our eyes in harrowing pain.
Encouraged by Victor’s remission, yet devastated by Yao’s death, we made a promise to ourselves: Never again! Never to let that happen again! That’s when we had a wild dream: to build within the Lomé University Hospital Centre a paediatric cancer treatment unit. This was in 2004, and everything had to be built from scratch! We had a team of six highly motivated young people, but had no idea what lay ahead of us…
For the next two years Brigitte, the President of the Charity, devoted all her time to starting the association. Working half the year as a dentist in France, she collected funds to buy medication and treatment products, and then spent the second half of the year in Lome setting up an embryonic infrastructure. The other members provided funding while networking to get people around them involved. Meanwhile, the Togolese interns, who were trying to provide children with treatment, were working in very dire conditions.
Our charity was officially created in 2006. VICTOiR thus provided Lome’s University Hospital Center with the financial means to treat childhood cancers, and, in most cases to cure these children afflicted with Burkitt lymphoma.
In 2009, the University Hospital Centre decided to create a paediatric doctor’s position for the unit. This strengthened the actions led by VICTOiR, and allowed the paediatric unit to join the Franco-African Paediatric Oncology Group, Groupe Franco-Africain d’Oncologie Pédiatrique (GFAOP). This central organization plays a pivotal role in cancer care for children in Francophone Africa, providing the chemotherapy medication that had until then proved so hard to obtain, and without which there can be no treatment.
A tight collaboration with VICTOiR has led to providing care for a second type of cancer, a kidney cancer called Nephrobalstome.
In 2010, VICTOiR hired two hospital nurses to assist the University Hospital Centre’s paediatric doctor.
In 2012, a small ward was built for cancer children, thanks to the providential help brought by two Italian associations (Give names?). VICTOiR helped provide all the equipment needed for the children’s ward.
In 2014, VICTOiR obtained the means to treat a third type of cancer, Hodgkin’s disease. At the same time, a new dynamic support committee came together to aid the founding members and extend our field of action.
In 2015, much was invested jointly by the charity, the GFAOP and the University Hospital Centre so that the Unit’s paediatric doctor, Dr. Jules Guédéon, obtained his Paediatric Oncology University Diploma, with honours. A second doctor is currently taking the same course and should be joining the unit soon.
Early in 2016, a third hospital nurse joined the local team. In addition, VICTOiR has gradually become able to provide care and treatment for a third type of cancer, LAL Leukaemia. This is one of the five types of cancers for which the GFAOP had already been providing antimitotic drugs
Achievements and next steps
Since the creation of VICTOiR, over 120 children have been treated in the paediatric oncology unit, which has become a landmark in the country and the entire sub region. The number of children being treated keeps growing steadily, from 11 children in 2011, 20 in 2012, 29 in 2013 to 36 in 2015.
In 2015, we administered over 200 courses of chemotherapy and we can now claim a cure rate approaching 70%. Our ambition is to achieve a cure rate of 90% and to support, as soon as possible, all types of children’s cancers.
Unfortunately, the lack of space at the unit is a growing problem. In January 2016 there were 21 children in a ward that officially can hold a maximum of 12!
The number of cases and increased activity require us to build a new structure with modern facilities next to the existing ward. The new structure will consist of two separate buildings that will nevertheless be connected. The first building will welcome children with cancer, as “the treatment ward” operating under optimal sanitary conditions. This is where the children will receive treatment. The second building will be the “outpatient unit”, where patients will be diagnosed and ambulatory care given between chemotherapy sessions.
Finally, in the long run, the project includes the creation of a “House for Parents”, to accommodate families during treatment periods and outpatient follow up treatments.
All our projects are developed in close partnership with the Paediatric Department, the University Hospital Centre/CHU Department (University and Research Department)? and the GFAOP. VICTOiR is supported by the Health Ministry of Togo and receives the full support of the French Embassy in Togo.