New Initiative Provides Free Treatment for Children with Cancer in Developing Countries

The World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading cancer center in the United States, are planning to provide cancer medication free-of-charge to children in developing countries.

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, killing about 10 million people a year.  The World Health Organization estimates 400,000 children globally develop cancer every year, with nearly 100,000 dying.

The most common types of childhood cancers include leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas, and solid tumors.  WHO reports nearly nine in 10 children with cancer live in low-and-middle income countries.

Andre Ilbawi, who heads WHO’s cancer division in the department of noncommunicable diseases,  said about 80 percent of children who have cancer in high-income countries survive  — a major achievement and improvement over the past decades.

“But that progress has not been achieved for children who are living in low-and middle-income countries, where 30 percent or less will survive a cancer diagnosis,” he said.  “One of the primary reasons is because of care that is simply not available or accessible, and medicines are a core part of the treatment of childhood cancer.”

WHO and St. Jude’s hospital have formed a partnership to change this situation, establishing a platform that will dramatically increase access to childhood cancer medicines around the world.

To kickstart this program, St. Jude is making a six-year investment by contributing $200 million.  Ilbawi said the money initially will provide medicines at no cost to 12 countries that will take part in a two-year pilot program, with governments involved in the care of the children and in selecting the medicines that are needed.

“From there we will work with country partners to make sure those medicines are delivered safely and effectively to the children in need,” Ilbawi said.  Over time, this will increase to 50 countries or more within six years.  This means that almost every child around the world, particularly those in low-and middle-income countries, will benefit from this platform.”

The new platform aims to provide safe and effective cancer medicines to approximately 120,000 children between 2022 and 2027.  The health partners say the program will be scaled up to include many more beneficiaries in future years.

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