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WHO kicks off global initiative to treat children with cancer

The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday said it has kicked off a new Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer – with the aim of reaching at least a 60 per cent survival rate for children with cancer by 2030, thereby saving an additional one million lives.

WHO said about $15 million has already been committed by the global agency and its partners to fund the initiative.

The new effort was first announced last September. According to WHO, the new target represents a doubling of the global cure rate for children with cancer.

In a report on its official website, the global health body stated that the aims of the Initiative are of two-folds:

“To increase prioritisation of childhood cancer through awareness raising at global and national levels and to expand the capacity of countries to deliver best practice in childhood cancer care.

“Concretely, WHO will support governments to assess current capacities in cancer diagnosis and treatment including the availability of medicines and technologies; Set and cost priority cancer diagnosis and treatment programmes; and integrate childhood cancer into national strategies, health benefits packages and social insurance schemes.”

The health body said the initiative will be achieved with support from a host of partners through the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer, which involves development of a WHO technical package to help scale-up capacities within national health systems.

“Among them is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the United States, the first WHO Collaborating Centre on childhood cancer, which has committed US$15,000,000 to supporting implementation of the initiative.”

Cancer is a leading cause of death for children, with 300,000 new cases diagnosed each year among children aged 0-19 years.

According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 15,270 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,790 died of the disease in 2017.

Children with cancer in low- and middle-income countries are four times more likely to die of the disease than children in high-income countries. This is because their illnesses are not diagnosed, they are often forced to abandon treatment due to high costs, and the health professionals entrusted with their care lack specialised training.

In Nigeria, there is limited research on statistics of children who have died to the deadly disease but many have decried the increased death toll among kids as a result of the ailment.

“There is a need for everyone to act now and join this fight. The rate at which children are dying because of cancer is alarming”, the Daivyan Children Cancer Foundation Convener, Matilda Williams-Obiajunwa said during her organisations’ 3rd edition march against childhood cancer to commemorate this years’ children day celebration in May.

The foundation was named after her son, Daivyan, a four-year-old boy who survived stage-4-kidney cancer.

“Government has been silent on the issue of childhood cancer while children are dying on daily basis. There is no improvement in the care, system or facilities available for the treatment and maintenance of children battling cancer and it hurts me so much. We can’t keep quiet anymore.

“If God had not intervened for Daivyan to get a chance at treatment outside this country, his story probably would have been different. How many kids can be that lucky?”

Key facts About Childhood Cancer

• The most common categories of childhood cancers include leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and solid tumours, such as neuroblastoma and Wilms tumour.

• In high-income countries, more than 80 per cent of children with cancer are cured, but in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), only about 20 per cent are cured.

• Childhood cancer generally cannot be prevented or screened.

• Improving outcomes for children with cancer requires early and accurate diagnosis followed by effective treatment.

• Most childhood cancers can be cured with generic medicines and other forms of treatments including surgery and radiotherapy. Treatment of childhood cancer can be cost-effective in all income settings.

• Avoidable deaths from childhood cancers in LMICs result from lack of diagnosis, misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, obstacles to accessing care, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity, and higher rates of relapse.

• Childhood cancer data systems are needed to drive continuous improvements in the quality of care, and to drive policy decisions.

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