The Canadian response to the call to help boost the survival rate of Caribbean children with cancer has been overwhelming.
Nearly two years ago, the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) was launched to assist with the building of health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care.
SickKids Foundation was seeking to raise $8 million in five years to support the project.
At a press conference last week to announce a fundraiser later this month for the project, Barbadian-raised Dr. Victor Blanchette – who along with Dr. Upton Allen are the co-chairs – announced that $7 million has already been raised for the initiative.
Lead donors Scotiabank, CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, Jamaican-born entrepreneur Wes Hall who founded Kingsdale Shareholder Services and husband and wife Allan Magee and Melanie McCaig have each contributed $1 million.
When Magee and McCaig’s son was diagnosed with leukemia, Blanchette provided the family with a greater understanding of the disease and treatment options. Impressed with his compassion and professionalism and satisfied with the care the hospital offered their son who is now cancer free, they initially funded a feasibility study which was used to identify where the gaps were in cancer care in the Caribbean.
To recognize their donations, Blanchette was appointed the McCaig Magee medical director for the project.
Part of the funds raised from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) rum & rhythm silent auction on October 30 at Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada will go the CSPCBDP.
Blanchette thanked the CTO and announced that telemedicine spaces will be launched in St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines next week.
A key component of the initiative, telemedicine enables Caribbean doctors and trainees to consult with SickKids on specific cases and receive customized educational and training sessions.
With support from donors, telemedicine facilities were recently opened in the Bahamas and Barbados.
“Since initiating the telemedicine consultation rounds, we have held 15 consultation second-opinion dialogue covering approximately 32 cases coming from across the participating countries,” said Blanchette. “This knowledge transfer is now possible and we are doing it. We have 32 physicians at SickKids and there is only one in most of the Caribbean countries and they are not all specialists.”
With its outstanding research capacity and teachers with expertise in myriad areas of child health, Blanchette said SickKids hospital is the perfect match to improve the outcome of children affected by paediatric cancers and serious blood disorders.
“At the Hospital for Sick Children, we have a very large cancer and blood disorder program which is the largest in Canada and the world,” he said. “If a child was diagnosed with cancer about 50 years ago, they almost invariably died. At SickKids where we see about 20-25 per cent of all children born in this country with cancer each year, the cure rate is over 80 per cent. That means that eight of 10 children in this country with access to diagnosis and treatment which is a combination of surgery and chemotherapy will survive and have families while contributing to society. We hope that children in the Caribbean will have the same outcomes.”
Children residing in Caribbean territories outside the six selected countries will have access to the specialists and facilities in the hubs closest to them for diagnosis and treatment.
“I am aware there are other countries outside the six hubs selected and some of them have expressed an interest in being part of the project,” said Blanchette. “We started our journey with countries where we have some personal connections and specialists in blood disorders, paediatric cancer and infectious diseases.”