New Initiative Provides Free Treatment for Children with Cancer in Developing Countries

GENEVA —

The World Health Organization and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a leading cancer center in the United States, plan to provide free cancer medications to children in developing countries.

Cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, affecting approximately 10 million people each year. The World Health Organization estimates that 400,000 children worldwide develop cancer each year, of which nearly 100,000 die.

The most common cancers in children are leukemias, brain cancers, lymphomas and solid tumors. The WHO reports that nearly nine in ten children with cancer live in low- and middle-income countries.

Andre Ilbawi, head of the WHO’s cancer division in the division of non-communicable diseases, said about 80 percent of children with cancer in high-income countries survive — a significant achievement and improvement over the decades.

“But that progress has not been made for children living in low- and middle-income countries, where 30 percent or less will survive a cancer diagnosis,” he said. “One of the main reasons is because of care that is simply not available or accessible, and drugs are an essential part of childhood cancer treatment.”

WHO and St. Jude’s Hospital have partnered to change this situation by creating a platform that will dramatically increase access to pediatric cancer medicines around the world.

To kickstart this program, St. Jude is making a six-year investment by contributing $200 million. Ilbawi said the money will initially provide free medicines to 12 countries that will participate in a two-year pilot program involving governments in caring for the children and selecting the medicines needed.

“From there, we will work with country partners to ensure those drugs are delivered safely and effectively to the children in need,” Ilbawi said. Over time, this will increase to 50 countries or more within six years. This means that almost every child around the world, especially children in low- and middle-income countries, will benefit from this platform.”

The new platform aims to deliver safe and effective cancer drugs to approximately 120,000 children between 2022 and 2027. The health partners say the program will be scaled up to many more beneficiaries in the coming years.

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