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VOL. 133 | NO. 106 | Monday, May 28, 2018

St. Jude Global to Extend Hospital’s Reach

By Michael Waddell

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is hoping the announcement of its St. Jude Global initiative Thursday, May 24, is just the beginning of many new partnerships to come. The hospital is investing more than $100 million to expand its reach and advance the survival rate of children with pediatric cancer and blood disorders around the world.

“We led the effort to cure the most common form of pediatric cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and we have made major advancements to the ability to treat children with brain tumors and solid tumors,” said St. Jude president and CEO Dr. James R. Downing. “We will remain diligent to advance those cure rates, while simultaneously reducing the toxicity that children experience from the treatment to be cured of their cancer.”

St. Jude Global director Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo unveils the hospital's $100 million initiative to help children in underserved countries Thursday, May 24. (Submitted)

Today the survival rates for pediatric cancer are greater than 80 percent in the U.S. and other developed countries, while in low- and middle-income countries that figure is estimated at below 20 percent. Global childhood cancer rates are on the rise as more children worldwide survive infancy. Today, more than 80 percent of children with cancer live in low- and middle-income countries, where they lack access to adequate diagnosis and treatment.

“Despite our ability to cure these diseases in low- and middle-income countries, the vast majority of children die from their disease,” Downing said. “We must address this gap.”

Under the new initiative’s three pillars of education, capacity building and research, the hospital hopes to leverage the resources and expertise of St. Jude and its partners around the world. The goal is to create a network of interactive programs and institutions, forming a global alliance that will improve access to care, enhance the quality of care and provide better options for cures.

“Through the St. Jude Global Academy, we will train the clinical force that is needed to treat childhood cancer worldwide,” said St. Jude Global director Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, who also serves as St. Jude’s executive vice president and chair of its Department of Global Pediatric Medicine.

Other plans include implementing regional, national and hospital-based initiatives and policies focused on strengthening health systems and enhancing quality of care and drug availability.

“We have already set six regional initiatives in Mexico, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China and, as of last month, Eurasia and in sub-Saharan Africa,” Rodriguez-Galindo said. “Through strategic planning at the regional level, we look at all the resources that are needed, engage the proper plans, and then filter down to the bedside.”

Since global outreach efforts started two years ago with creation of the hospital’s Department of Global Pediatric Medicine, the number of staff members has grown from around 25 to more than 70, and more hires are expected by next year.

Attending the event Thursday were 28 program directors from 18 countries.

“Our program started in 2004 when there was an identification of a need to treat children with cancer,” said Jordan program director Dr. Rawad Rahani, deputy chair for the Department of Pediatrics at King Hussein Cancer Center. “There were really no structured programs, and the treatment modalities were not meeting international standards at the time.”

Since then, the hospital has established multidisciplinary teams, developed structured programs, and started fellowship program training, and the country’s childhood cancer survival rates have risen from below 50 percent to more than 75 percent.

“We are help for the entire Middle East,” Rahani said. “About 30 percent of our patient population are not Jordanians, and we are training others in the region to treat more children and deliver state-of-the-art therapy for children with cancer. We’re curing diseases that were amenable in the past to treatment, and we’re utilizing novel modalities in stem cell transplantation as well.”

Representatives from other countries, such as the Philippines (survival rate of less than 10 percent in 2004 to almost 50 percent today) and Guatemala, shared similar success stories of improving their countries’ childhood cancer survival rates.

St. Jude has established partnerships in Brazil, Chile, China, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Nicaragua, Philippines and Venezuela, and has emerging relationships in regions such as Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia and sub-Saharan Africa.

St. Jude started its first global outreach initiative in childhood cancer in 1993 when it established the International Outreach Program, and the effort, which reached about 3 percent of children with cancer worldwide, was effective. In the last 25 years, the IOP has grown to encompass 24 hospitals in 17 low- and middle-income countries.

St. Jude Global hopes to grow that number to 30 percent within the next decade, with the ultimate goal for all children with cancer and blood disorders to have access to quality care.

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