Newswise — St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital today announced a five-year collaboration with World Health Organization aimed at transforming cancer care worldwide to cure at least 60 percent of children with six of the most common types of cancer by 2030.
This collaboration seeds a global initiative that will bring together stakeholders in childhood cancer from around the world to increase access to care for children with cancer, enhance quality of care by developing national centers of excellence and regional satellites, and influence the integration of childhood cancer into national policies to ensure the greatest chance of survival for all affected children.
“The lives of too many children are cut short by cancer,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Ph.D. “We cannot tolerate a world in which some children have access to world-class treatment while others die simply because they are poor. Childhood cancer is a powerful symbol of the need for universal health coverage.”
Each year, approximately 300,000 children and adolescents are expected to be diagnosed with cancer. About 8 in 10 of these children live in low- and middle-income countries, where cure rates are often estimated at only 20 percent. This is in stark contrast to higher-income countries, where cure rates exceed 80 percent, largely because of the medical advances and specialized multidisciplinary care for children with cancer established over the past 50 years. This divide in survival rates between higher-income countries and low- and middle-income countries is among the greatest disparities in health outcomes worldwide.
Limited access to high-quality, affordable medicines and the risk of financial catastrophe from out-of-pocket payments are hallmarks of the childhood cancer challenge many countries face.
“St. Jude was founded on the idea that no child should die in the dawn of life,” said James R. Downing, M.D., St. Jude president and CEO. “While we have been able to advance this vision for many children with cancer, the bitter reality is that in most places around the world, 4 out of 5 children with cancer are still dying of their disease. We have the ability to change that. This initiative will provide the tools and resources to shape how childhood cancer is addressed globally, encouraging national health systems to make childhood cancer a priority and dramatically improving cure rates for children with cancer.”
Bringing together the strengths of St. Jude and WHO to expand services, capacities and partnerships for tackling childhood cancer, this collaboration provides a platform to support in-country implementation efforts for childhood cancer control. The effort combines St. Jude expert technical support and a designated programmatic investment of US$15 million with WHO authority working with governments and leaders across health systems regionally and globally. Activities will include supporting clinical care for the most vulnerable children, ensuring all children with cancer can access high-quality medicines and technologies, and strengthening training programs by developing centers of excellence. For a sustainable, global initiative, this collaboration hopes to catalyze a broader effort that allows vital inputs from in-country leaders and organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for children with cancer. These groups include organizations in official relations with WHO, such as International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP), Childhood Cancer International (CCI) and Union for International Cancer Control (UICC).
“We are honored to work with WHO to bring together the many health care providers, advocates and researchers who have been working to defeat childhood cancer across the globe,” said Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, M.D., executive vice president and chair of the St. Jude Department of Global Pediatric Medicine. “We have exciting opportunities to harness efforts happening worldwide to more quickly advance children’s access to quality cancer care and ensure that fewer young lives are needlessly cut short by treatable diseases. Articulating a global stakeholder response around WHO is a major step forward and the start of a new era in the fight for the lives of children with cancer.”
For more than two decades, St. Jude has invested in local programs and leaders in resource-limited countries to improve the quality of care and outcomes for children and adolescents. In March 2018, the hospital was named the first WHO Collaborating Centre for Childhood Cancer. In May 2018, it formally launched St. Jude Global, which involves an initial investment of US$100 million to accelerate efforts to improve childhood cancer survival rates worldwide through the development of regional, national and hospital-specific efforts in education, capacity-building and research.
The WHO-St. Jude effort is a result of the World Health Assembly Resolution 70.12 on cancer prevention and control. Adopted in May 2017, the resolution signifies the commitment from WHO and governments to step up services for childhood cancer as part of national cancer control programs. The initiative will be discussed in New York Thursday, Sept. 27, and Friday, Sept. 28, at the United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on Noncommunicable Diseases, and at the inaugural side event on childhood cancer. Heads of state and governments will report on efforts their countries are taking to beat noncommunicable diseases, which combined are responsible for 7 in 10 deaths globally.
“With commitment and collaboration, the care and outcomes for children with cancer can be improved,” said Dr. Svetlana Akselrod, assistant director-general for noncommunicable diseases and mental health at WHO. “Therefore, taking action against childhood cancer represents one of the most effective and tangible steps in the broader fight against noncommunicable diseases.”