As a medical student, Dr. Jeremy Slone developed an interest in global health. He also was interested in pediatric oncology, but he didn’t know how to blend the two. He has found the perfect way to combine his medical interests – through the International Center at Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers.
Slone, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor, provides care to children with cancer in Africa. He primarily works at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone, Botswana, but also travels throughout sub-Saharan Africa to provide pediatric oncology teaching to BIPAI sites.
“In medical school, I spent two months in Papua New Guinea on a global health mission. For me, that was it; I knew I wanted to pursue global health,” he says. “I certainly didn’t know then that I would be living abroad, but I knew I wanted to do something with global health.”
Opportunities to provide pediatric cancer care globally at that time were limited, he noted, but a mentor advised him to continue his training, and in particular to focus on research and training of other health care workers and opportunities would develop. Sure enough, after his residency training he went on to do a pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship with his research focusing on pediatric cancer care in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically Zambia.
Slone joined Texas Children’s Cancer Center last year and is in the third year of a three-year commitment in Botswana. With him in Africa are his wife, Amanda, and their 3-year-old daughter. Amanda Slone, a registered nurse, works alongside her husband as the care coordinator for the children’s cancer and blood disorders program in Botswana.
In 2013, his first full calendar year in Botswana, 38 children were diagnosed with cancer, and there were about 600 clinic visits for children with cancer and blood disorders. This number likely represents only a portion of children with cancer in Botswana as many die before their cancer is recognized or diagnosed – exactly what he and his colleagues are hoping to change through their work.
While his first priority is patient care, Slone also has been able to turn some of his focus to research. His first goal is to establish a database of patients who have been seen since 2007, when Texas Children’s Cancer Center first established a presence in Botswana. All new patients will be entered in to it going forward, and it will serve as the platform for future research as well as a serve a clinical function by tracking lab work, medications for patients and more.
“In the next nine to 12 months, I hope to publish some data on what types of cancer we’re seeing here and the outcomes. We can share and compare that information with what is seen in other parts of Africa, which will help determine where resources and aid should be directed,” Slone says.
Another important part of Texas Children’s Cancer Center’s international program is training local health care professionals, medical students and residents, because, Slone says, “the sustainability of a pediatric oncology program requires local buy-in.”
While the work is fulfilling, living in Africa is not without its challenges. Inconsistent and unreliable utility service has meant long hours without water and electricity.
“Every day things that you take for granted in the U.S. aren’t available,” Amanda Slone says. “But you learn to improvise and adjust. We have a gas grill with a side burner, and have gotten good at cooking all sorts of things on it.”
Fresh produce is not always available, and making a traditional American treat – chocolate chip cookies – takes a lot of creativity. Chocolate chips are hard to come by and brown sugar isn’t available. Amanda has figured out how to make her own brown sugar and where to buy a particular candy bar that will do the trick.
The cultural experience for them and especially their daughter makes it worthwhile, the Slones say. They joke that their daughter sounds like a little British lady – Botswana was a British colony until gaining its independence – thanks to the influence of her private preschool.
Originally from Ohio, with stops in Tennessee and Arizona for medical training before moving to Botswana, the Slones have found they can adapt no matter where they live, and they look forward to calling Houston home when their commitment in Africa is complete.
This story originally appeared in the February issue of BCM Family.