The comparison is staggering. It’s estimated that a Canadian child with cancer has close to a 90 per cent chance of surviving the disease, while the survival rate for a Caribbean youth is about 50 per cent.
This inequality of outcomes along with results from a needs assessment survey identifying huge gaps in care in the Caribbean prompted the SickKids Foundation to launch a new initiative aimed at improving diagnoses and outcomes for children affected by paediatric cancers and serious blood disorders.
The newly-created Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) will help build 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.
The six hubs were selected based on some world-leading experts in blood disorders, paediatric cancer and infectious diseases who have roots in those countries.
Among them is Jamaican-born Dr. Upton Allen who, with Barbadian-born Dr. Victor Blanchette, are the initiative’s co-chairs.
“In Canada, most children with cancer survive,” Dr. Allen said at the event launch last week. “In the Caribbean, they don’t.
“When I speak with some of my fellow physicians in the Caribbean, they tell me that in some countries, the chances of surviving are actually worse than flipping a coin. That’s sad.
“I am very familiar with the challenges that doctors face to cure children who have cancer in the Caribbean. With a partner such as SickKids, there is no doubt that they will have more specialty trained doctors who can make a difference and there will be better laboratory support to diagnose cancers at an early stage. We will work with them using modern TeleMedicine technology to provide advice on different cases. I believe that this project has the potential to be perhaps one of the most significant developments in the Caribbean in several decades. It’s transformational.”
Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, the chief of the global child health portfolio at SickKids Hospital, said the time has come for the hospital to work with children around the world.
“At SickKids, we have a fabulous capacity to do research, many of us are teachers with expertise in many areas of child health that we feel we should share with children, doctors and nurses around the world and we do global child health because it’s simply the right thing to do. We are part of a global community whether we want to be or not. There are no longer local diseases. A disease in Jamaica or China could be a disease in Canada with the next flight from one of those countries.
“So we have an obligation to share our knowledge and expertise around the world. This new initiative is a great example of our goal to share our expertise and knowledge by building capacity in the Caribbean.”
In May 2012, Dr. Michelle Reece-Mills, who was trained at SickKids, returned to Jamaica as the country’s first and only fully trained physician specializing in children’s cancer and blood disorders.
“I have brought back a wealth of knowledge with me which I have started to put into good use locally,” said Reece-Mills, who is at the University Hospital of the West Indies. “Having a centre like SickKids with such a great record of success can only empower us to do great things.”
As part of the CSPCBDP five-year plan, TeleMedicine, physician envoys and the SickKids International Learner program will provide customized and hands-on training to local practitioners, establish and maintain a patient registry to provide high-quality data and key outcomes and increase the knowledge of primary care practitioners and pharmacists in the Caribbean to improve cancer care access.
Trainees will also travel from the Caribbean to SickKids regularly for hands-on training and experience at the hospital’s Garron Family Cancer Centre. The hospital has so far trained seven practitioners from Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados.
SickKids Foundation has raised $2 million in less than a year to support the project. It’s seeking financial support from Canadian donors and naming opportunities are available for gifts from $25,000 to $2.5 million.
The foundation’s president and chief executive officer, Ted Garrard, said they are on target to raise $8 million in the next five years to support the project.
“The Caribbean faces limitations on its health resources and these limitations affect the quality and length of life for children in this region,” said Garrard. “These generous gifts will help build capacity for these Caribbean countries to more effectively diagnose and treat children with cancer and blood disorders.”
Barbados Ball Canada Aid (BBCA) representatives presented Garrard with a $20,000 cheque at the launch. Former Barbados Consul General, Kay McConney, conceived the idea for the fundraiser a decade ago to provide annual post-secondary bursaries and financial assistance to charitable organizations that offer health care services and programs for youths.
“Some of the key words in our mandate are youth and health care, so this is a perfect match for us,” said BBCA president, Steve Kirton, who joined the organization’s first vice-president and communications chair, Hugh Graham and treasurer, Donald MacKinlay, in making the presentation. “We always have to remember that the youngest are the most vulnerable.”
Kirton said his organization has committed to contributing $15,000 in each of the next two years to the SickKids project.
Other Caribbean nationals and friends of the region have also committed to the CSPCBDP initiative.
Jamaican-born Wayne Purboo, the president and chief executive officer of Quick Play Media which he founded nine years ago, will fund the renovation of the TeleMedicine facility at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Jamaica while Canadian rapper and record producer, Kardinal Offishall, has donated part of the proceeds from his annual Christmas event.
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.
By RON FANFAIR