On this day, with the leadership of Dr. Oleg Chestnov (WHO Assistant Deputy General for Non-communicable Diseases), support from four endorsing countries (i.e., the Russian Federation, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Republic of Ghana and the Republic of the Philippines) and in collaboration with the International Society of Pediatric Oncology (SIOP), we convened the FIRST World Health Assembly side-event on the global challenges of childhood cancer.
This breakthrough initiative happened during the 68th World Health Assembly (WHA), which is the highest decision making body of the World Health Organization and the world’s highest health policy making body. It is attended by delegations from all 194 WHO Member States as well as representatives from other international development organizations and civil society organizations.
Our forum on the Global Challenges of Childhood Cancer enabled the Ministers of Health from the four countries to discuss and share progress in the implementation of best practice childhood cancer national models that have contributed to improved access to care and reduced childhood cancer mortality and morbidity. The panelists recommended solutions to overcome barriers that limit access to affordable care and services for children with cancer and survivors of childhood cancer.
The presence of key cancer related resource institutions such as IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), EMA (European Medicines Agency ) and the German Cancer League provided opportunities to hear about the latest updates, emerging windows of opportunity for priority childhood cancer issues and challenges (e.g., dedicated childhood cancer registries, essential medicines for childhood cancer.)
The key messages that were highlighted in this dialogue included:
- Every three minutes, a child is diagnosed with cancer;
- Childhood cancer is now the leading Non-communicable disease-related death among children and adolescents in both high-income countries and a growing number of middle-income countries;
- Huge inequities and disparities exist across countries when it comes to survival rates and quality of care for children with cancer and survivors;
- There is an urgent need to make childhood cancer a top global child-health priority and to scale-up both global and national initiatives to address the needs of children with cancer, survivors and their families.
- Treatment for childhood cancer can be cost effective. Inaction has a far-reaching impact on poverty reduction and on ensuring overall health and well-being of children/adolescents.
HRH Princess Dina Mired of Jordan delivered a moving inspirational message challenging everyone to make childhood cancer dialogue, “not just a side event, but a major event.” She also challenged everyone to DO SOMETHING and DO MORE for children with cancer, survivors and their families.
Dr. Greg Aune, a childhood cancer survivor himself and a pediatric oncologist and physician scientist, who is part of the President Obama “dream team” on precision medicine for childhood cancer, was the voice of survivors. He reminded the attendees that, “The world loses more than a life when a child dies from cancer. Countries are deprived of future citizens that approach life and see the world from a unique perspective. Losing a child to cancer not only devastates families, it deprives the world of an individual that has endured a unique life experience that propels them to live a life giving back. By not doing absolutely everything we can to save children afflicted with cancer, we may be depriving the world of our next great leader, philosopher, doctor, scientist, or artist…” He then made an appeal that: “We can do better. We must do better. It is in fact our duty.”
In closing, Dr. Oleg Chestnov concluded, “The goal for today has been reached. We have drawn political attention to childhood cancer. We call upon every country to do this for childhood cancer. The reality is that the world is changing, science is changing; this huge disparity (on quality of care and survivorship from childhood cancer) needs to be corrected.”
This side event is only the start of our ultimate objective which is to facilitate the passing of a resolution on “Addressing Global Childhood Cancer Inequities.” To accomplish this important “next step”, we will need to have the Executive Committee of the WHA agree to include this resolution in the agenda of the 69th WHA.
We will need your help as a 2/3 vote is required from the 44 members of this committee.
Consequently, we will be reaching out to our CCI members seeking your involvement in getting endorsement and votes for this much needed resolution. Passage of this resolution in the WHA will mean that all 194 member countries will be committed to having national and local programs as well as resources allocated to childhood cancer initiatives.