Innovations in Global Health: Tackling the Childhood Cancer Crisis in Africa

Alyssa GovindanNews

An Innovative Public-Private Approach that is Saving Lives Now and Building Capacity

On June 11th at Mulago Hospital in Kampala, Uganda, six children and their parents rang the survivor bell of the new pediatric cancer ward to mark the end of their cancer treatment. Until recently, these halls were quiet. Children with cancer in Uganda, like much of Africa, face a devastating prognosis. Of the 100,000 children in Sub-Saharan Africa that develop cancer each year, 90% will die.  This enormous health disparity can be explained by the critically low availability of anti-cancer medicines and an inadequate healthcare infrastructure necessary to support the complex and multidisciplinary care pediatric cancer requires. Most striking, there is a near-complete absence of trained pediatric hematology-oncology specialists in Africa. Fortunately, efforts are being made to change this reality.

In February 2017, Texas Children’s Hospital launched Global HOPE in partnership with local Ministries of Health to transform childhood cancer care across Sub-Saharan Africa. Global HOPE – initiated with a historic $50 million commitment from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation – operates in Botswana, Malawi, and Uganda and is expanding rapidly in six other African countries.

The approach is simple and scalable. Global HOPE is applying the lessons its’ parent organization BIPAI, the Baylor International Pediatric Aids Initiative, learned in successfully  combating HIV/AIDS in Africa,  building local capacity and strengthening the healthcare system infrastructure. Global HOPE’s training occurs in Centers of Excellence that emphasize patient centered, multi-disciplinary care. Its’ comprehensive strategy involves training doctors and nurses, improving access to anti-cancer drugs, developing state-of-the-art facilities, and raising awareness among local communities and beyond.

“The results speak for themselves,” explained Dr. David G. Poplack, Director of Global HOPE. “In the first twelve months, we’ve treated more than 2,000 children across three countries, and we’ve observed a significant increase in early survival rates.” In Uganda, prior to Global HOPE, over 70% of children diagnosed with cancer died or abandoned cared within 1 month. Since Global HOPE, the data shows significant improvement with over 85% of children surviving one month and 55% surviving for over 1 year.  One of the program’s most important milestones was establishing the first pediatric hematology-oncology fellowship training program in East Africa. The director of this program, Ugandan physician, Dr. Joseph Lubega, remarked, “We will be graduating the first class of fellows on August 9th. With ten more fellows in the pipeline, we’re on target for tripling the number of childhood cancer specialists in East Africa by 2020.”

Alongside education, training, and treatment, an equally impressive effort to forge partnerships is required to sustain Global HOPE’s mission and work long-term. Global HOPE is in the process of establishing an International Council, comprised largely of global healthcare experts and child health advocates, and is engaging with businesses, philanthropists, and government officials in key markets in the United States, Africa, and around the world.

Global HOPE is encouraged by the effect of its outreach. “Everywhere we have gone, the response has been tremendous,” exclaimed Jeff Richardson, Former Vice President of the AbbVie Foundation and member of the Global HOPE Executive Committee. “From Houston to New York, Washington D.C. to Chicago, and throughout Africa, local business leaders and families are committed to helping us beat childhood cancer.”

To learn more about Global HOPE:

  • Consider how your organization potentially could partner with Global HOPE and contact us.
  • Email to express your interest in participating in upcoming Global HOPE events during United Nations General Assembly week in New York City.
Alyssa GovindanInnovations in Global Health: Tackling the Childhood Cancer Crisis in Africa