The facility is planned to open at the end of 2021 and one of the most important parts of the project is the First Radiotherapy Department for Children in the country.
March 2020 was a horrendous month for all of us, starting with leaders in the medical field, hospital and department managers and medical staff, up to simple workers, no matter the industry. The images that came from Italy, where the pandemic hit the worst, terrified us, not only for fear for our own health and that of those we cared about, but also for fear that our medical system would not cope with such a crisis.
Romania is already known for its poorly financed medical system, lack of reform when it comes to healthcare and an exodus of human resources. As an NGO working for more than 10 years to improve the infrastructure of the medical system and to help patients (specifically oncological patients), we at the Give Life Association were well aware of the dramatic situation hospitals will find themselves in once the pandemic reached our borders. It was a matter of days and hours and all we could do was mobilise all of our resources into offering support to those at the front line of fighting COVID-19. This meant quick fundraising, acquisition and distribution of protective and medical equipment to as many medical units as possible. Which we did, in the end reaching over 140 medical units across the country.
While working tirelessly to help as many health workers as possible, a constant question emerged: in this global crisis, how will we be able to keep the promise we have made to over 350,000 individual donors and over 4,000 companies? The promise of building the First National Children’s Hospital for Cancer, Severe Illnesses and Trauma exclusively from donations? A dream we started a couple of years ago and in which were joined by hundreds of thousands, including the music band Metallica.
For the first time in 30 years, a children’s hospital is being built from scratch in Romania. With the transition period, after the communist rule, this might not seem such an extraordinary fact. But it becomes one when you learn the details. It is a hospital built entirely from donations and sponsorships by a local NGO, and it has become the biggest social involvement movement in the country. It is also the first hospital to bring Western treatment standards to children with cancer or other severe diseases.
It all started with a dream: wanting to offer decent conditions for treatment to children admitted to the oncology ward of one of the biggest children’s hospitals in Romania – Marie Curie Children’s Hospital in Bucharest. Here, 30 kids and 30 parents currently share two toilets and a shower at the end of the hallway, and there is no room for playing, recreational activities or just catching one’s breath.
Besides being built entirely by thanks to efforts by the people, the hospital brings lots of other premieres for Romania: it will be the first public hospital to offer multidisciplinary treatment to children with cancer and severe illnesses, the first with beds for parents and dedicated spaces for children (including a radio station, an indoor cinema and astronomical observer), the first ICU with individuals rooms and access based on the “clean hands” system, the first completely digitalised medical unit and the first building in public healthcare to have an efficient BMS.
In addition, one of the most important components of the hospital is the First Children’s Radiotherapy Department in the country. Up until now, children would receive radiotherapy treatment in adults’ centres without the possibility of anaesthesia.
The Children’s Radiotherapy Department is one of the crucial components of this project, as it will drastically improve the chances of survival for children with cancer. But how do you set up such a department when there is little to no experience in this field in your country? Fortunately, one of the top specialists in the field, Prof. Saiful Huq, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), had heard about the project and was interested in bringing his expertise to support our dream.
With his help, we were able to connect and partner with two world-renowned radiotherapy centres (from Rome and Dublin) to ensure the training of professionals. We were able to set up one of the most advanced departments in the South-East of Europe in terms of technology and even convince the Ministry of Health about the need for this Department. Furthermore, the trust that Prof. Huq showed for the project has helped us gain more trust and hope that Romanian specialists who left the country would be willing to come back and work for the Department. That is how we have started a recruitment campaign for specialists in radiotherapy (radiotherapists, physicists and technicians) and oncology (paediatric oncologists).
Once you know where you want to arrive, once you have a clear objective, there is nothing that can stop you on your way there. Not even a global pandemic.