Port of Spain, 18 February 2020 (PAHO/WHO) – On the occasion of International Childhood Cancer Day, pediatric cancer experts and health authorities convened by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and together with the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, are calling for stepped-up action to improve the survival rate for children suffering from cancer in the Caribbean.

In the Caribbean and globally, cancer is among the leading causes of death in children under age 15. In high-income countries, more than 8 in 10 children with cancer are able to survive the illness, thanks to early diagnosis and effective treatment. But in several Caribbean countries, 2-year overall survival is only about 55%. Higher toxicity of cancer treatments and patients’ abandoning their treatment are the main barriers to successful outcomes, and experts say that strengthening health systems is the best way to address these challenges.

"Childhood cancer treatment is very cost-effective, and many more children’s lives can be saved by ensuring that the health system is well equipped to diagnose and treat children with cancer and provide support to their families’’

The experts convened by PAHO include pediatricians, pediatric oncologists, and noncommunicable disease program managers from nine Caribbean countries and territories, along with representatives of ministries of health and other collaborating organizations. The group met in Port of Spain Trinidad, on Feb. 11 and 12 to map out ways to increase support and action—at both the country and international levels—to reduce deaths in children and adolescents with cancer in the Caribbean through strengthened health systems, focusing on improving diagnosis, treatment, training, and family support.

The meeting identified priority areas of action as: earlier detection and diagnosis of childhood cancer in primary care, with timely referral for specialized treatment; increased access to essential medicines for childhood cancer; training and continuing multi-disciplinary medical education for specialists and primary care providers; improved continuity of care, including for children who live far from treatment centers to prevent abandonment of treatment; and the production and sharing of evidence for public health use and to mobilize political and financial support.

“Childhood cancer treatment is very cost-effective, and many more children’s lives can be saved by ensuring that the health system is well equipped to diagnose and treat children with cancer and provide support to their families,’’ said Silvana Luciani, head of PAHO’s noncommunicable diseases unit.

The actions proposed by the experts in Trinidad build on earlier efforts by the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative (SCI), established in 2013 to build sustainable local capacity to diagnose, treat and manage pediatric cancers and blood disorders in six participating countries (The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago), and a regional working group for Latin America and the Caribbean set up by PAHO in 2017 to develop strategies and recommendations for health system strengthening for childhood cancer. The current efforts are also part of the broader Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018 to improve survival rates by addressing barriers to access and quality of care for children with cancer.

In addition to the work in the Caribbean, PAHO and St. Jude are collaborating with the Commission of Central American Ministers of Health (COMISCA) to implement similar measures to improve childhood cancer care in Central America and Hispanic Caribbean.

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) works with the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of their populations. Founded in 1902, it is the world’s oldest international public health agency. It serves as the Regional Office of WHO for the Americas and is the specialized health agency of the Inter-American system.

About the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health
The Centre for Global Child Health is the dedicated hub for global child health-focused activities at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). With a rich history of innovation in global pediatric health and a reputable network of global partners, the Centre for Global Child Health is well poised to effectively address global child health issues. The Centre supports the global health agenda through collaborative research grounded in scholarship, sustainable capacity building through education, advocacy for improved maternal and child health and the active communication of results to local, national and international stakeholders. Learn more: www.sickkids.ca/globalchildhealth. Follow on Twitter @SickKidsGlobal.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital is leading the way the world understands, treats and cures childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. It is the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center devoted solely to children. Treatments developed at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20 percent to 80 percent since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. St. Jude freely shares the breakthroughs it makes, and every child saved at St. Jude means doctors and scientists worldwide can use that knowledge to save thousands more children. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live. To learn more, visit stjude.org or follow St. Jude on social media at @stjuderesearch

Related links:

Meeting on Health System Strengthening for Childhood Cancer in the Caribbean

Childhood Cancer