PAHO Calls for Action to Improve Childhood Cancer Survival in the Caribbean

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Monday February 24, 2020 – Paediatric cancer experts and health authorities convened by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), 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, two-year overall survival is only about 55 per cent. 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,’’ said Silvana Luciani, head of PAHO’s non-communicable diseases unit.

The experts convened by PAHO include paediatricians, paediatric oncologists, and non-communicable disease programme 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 recently 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 centres to prevent abandonment of treatment; and the production and sharing of evidence for public health use and to mobilize political and financial support.

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 paediatric 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.

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