Cancer is a major public health problem in Sub-Saharan Africa where sadly, the majority of children who are fighting cancer die. The mortality rate here is estimated to be as high as 90 percent. This is because of an inadequate healthcare infrastructure, along with a significant lack of expert physicians and other necessary healthcare workers trained to treat children with cancer. One of the most predominant misperceptions about cancer is that it is not really an African problem. Yet, non-communicable diseases—cancer, in particular—contribute to more deaths in the developing world than the diseases of poverty more commonly associated with Africa.
Taking action and fighting against these statistics, the Government of Botswana has announced a new $100 million public-private partnership that includes Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital and the Governments of Uganda and Malawi. All these parties have come together as Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence). This special initiative will create pediatric hematology-oncology treatment and care, and will be supported by a $50 million donation from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, matched by $50 million in additional philanthropy.
The most common types of childhood cancers are blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma. Yet with only five pediatric oncologists currently in Botswana, Malawi and Uganda combined, there are simply not enough expert doctors to treat all the children diagnosed with blood disorders and cancer. It’s estimated that in these countries there are more than 11,000 new cases annually of pediatric cancer and 40,000 new cases of serious, life-threatening blood disorders such as sickle cell disease and hemophilia. Now, Global HOPE is offering transformational change in survival for these children, as 4,800 healthcare professionals from Botswana, Uganda, Malawi and other African countries, including doctors and nurses specialising in pediatric hematology-oncology, and social workers will be trained. The program believes that over 5,000 children will receive care in the first five years.
The Global HOPE initiative will be modeled on the successful work of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, BIPAI and the governments of Botswana, Uganda and Malawi, who created the largest pediatric HIV treatment network in the world, radically changing the course of pediatric HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Since 2003, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and BIPAI have trained 52,000 healthcare professionals and currently provide care for nearly 300,000 children with HIV and their families in sub-Saharan Africa, lowering the mortality rate for these children to 1.2 percent.
This partnership behind Global HOPE is revolutionary as it addresses the need for targeted funding for cancer research in Africa. Cancer research is desperately needed to tailor the environment here, especially as until now, funding for this research has been inadequate. Global HOPE will embark on this unchartered area of cancer care in Africa, aiming to create a sustainable set up that changes the treatments of these childhood diseases here, ultimately helping patients and their families.
Photo Credit: Dr. Alan. R. Anderson