“While the decision to fund the Oncology Unit of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital was based solely on the need within the African continent, it never occurred me, just how personal this journey with the Hospital would be.”

Right from the beginning, we all understood the necessity for a specialist cancer care unit that could service the 450 million children on the African continent. We understood that the vast majority of children caught in the cycle of poverty, do not have access to specialist cancer-care.

However, it was only in June 2015 (two years after we had decided to fund this unit) when the wide-ranging impact of our deeply unequal society was fully realised and experienced at a very personalised level, and re-affirmed why we so desperately needed to commit to this unit.

My eldest son was diagnosed with Stage 3 Cancer in June 2015. This diagnosis occurred in the same week that I was concluding an audit at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital, to monitor the progress of the hospital against its 2016 deadline.

We were fortunate to be able to access a specialist hospital immediately, and within a short space of time surgically remove my son’s tumour and begin his chemo treatment. Every person who has ever known someone with cancer, will understand how critical time is, as it is an important determiner of available treatment options.

Whilst grateful for the immediacy of responding to my son’s diagnosis and accessing specialist treatment, this gratitude was also a recognition of an unfair advantage and privilege. Thousands, if not millions of children in Africa do not have that luxury. They do not have access to specialist treatment, or cannot afford it. As a parent, I needed to seriously reflect and act upon these disparities.

I understood, immediately the amanah given to me, as the Country Director of Islamic Relief South Africa, to continue to push for the establishment of the Oncology unit which will make specialist care available to everyone.

This amanah, was further emphasised when I too was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer just a few months after my son’s diagnosis.

At every stage of my own treatment, and my child’s recovery journey, my sense of gratitude deepened with the realisation that a more urgent and committed task lie ahead of me. My heart and thoughts could not escape the reality that so many cancer patients are forced to bear a double burden of dealing with the illness itself and the exorbitant costs involved in the treatment of the illness.  I could more intensely understand not only the need for more specialist hospitals, but also NMCH’s decision to partner with service providers, to provide free specialist healthcare to children across Southern Africa.

Alhamdulillah, although both my son and my-self have successfully journeyed through this battle by the Grace and Mercy of Allah, we also understand that ours was only part of the real challenge. As with all life-threatening illness, the journey provides profound realisations and openings for more clarity. We now have to draw on our experiences, strengthen our resolves to work harder in more effective and meaningful ways to help bridge the inequality gap and ensure that every family who is faced with a crisis like the one we experienced, is able to face it with the best resources available. We have to recognise that we all have a role to play to make this possible.

Every life has to be equally valuable. Access to quality health-care and specialist treatment should be a privilege available to all.

The opening of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital on Dec 2nd 2016, was a significant moment for me, despite not being able to be there physically. At the time, I was recovering from a complex surgery that was able to successfully remove two cancerous tumours, Alhamdulillah!  For me that collective moment symbolised not only the physical removal of cancer from my body, but the removal of the access barrier between an innocent child and specialist cancer care.

Yusuf Patel
Country Director – Islamic Relief SA

#Humans Of Islamic Relief #WorldCancerDay




© Copyrights 2022 Islamic Relief SA. All rights reserved Charity Registration Number - 043-357-NPO