Raising survival rates for children with cancer
How organizations around the world are working to bring treatment to children with cancer in developing countries.
This story first aired on the BBC World Service program, Healthcheck; use audio player above to listen to story in its entirety.
In the last 50 years there has been a huge improvement in the rate of survival for children with cancer -- the survival rate is currently at 80 percent. While childhood cancer is highly curable, much of the advancements in treatment is restricted to people living in developed countries.
About 80 percent of cases of childhood cancer come out of low- to middle-income countries, where survival ranges between 10 and 30 percent. It is estimated that 100,000 children die each year from cancer with no chance of cure, pain relief or other supportive care.
Misdiagnosis, refusal of treatment, lack of trained doctors, abandonment of therapy, toxic death or lack of resources and affordable drugs all contribute to the poor survival rates of childhood cancer in developing countries.
Professor Tim Eden has spent his career treating children with cancer and is now emeritus Professor of Pediatric & Adolescent Oncology at Manchester University. He says in places like Ghana, where there's about 1000 new cases of childhood cancer each year, only 200 to 250 cases receive treatment.
World Child Cancer is an organization that helps connect hospitals and medical professionals in developed and developing countries. Currently, the organization is helping the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Blantyre, Malawi, connect with hospitals in the Netherlands and the UK. Queen Elizabeth Hospital is one of just two hospitals in Malawi that treat childhood cancer.
Medical staff from the hospitals in the Netherlands and the UK take part in specialist medical training visits to transfer vital knowledge and skills to medical staff in Malawi. But even with these additional resources, the survival rate at Queen Elizabeth Hospital is still low. Because of a lack of diagnostic equipment in most rural areas, by the time many children reach the hospital, it is already too late for them.
In the Philippines, the biggest challenges for treating children with cancer are the lack of specialist health workers, the lack of funds for treatment and the geography of the country, which can make it hard for people to access healthcare. Only 20 percent of children with cancer actually see a cancer specialist.
Dr. Mae Dolendo works at the Southern Philippines Medical Centre, and is the only child pediatric oncologist on Mindanao, the second largest of the 7,107 islands which make up the Philippines. As part of another World Child Cancer project, Dr. Dolendo has set up two satellite clinics in more remote parts of the country. She uses new technology, like videoconferencing, to help diagnose patients who are unable to travel to the main cancer center.
Dr. Dolendo says the satellite clinics have helped improve the rate of early detection of cancer in children.
One of the biggest challenges for cancer diagnosis and treatment in developing countries is geographic. Professor Tim Eden at Manchester University says bringing the therapy to patients is key. "If you can deliver therapy -- at least some of it, if not all of it -- close to somebody's home, then you actually improve the chances of them being able to complete the therapy."
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