In developed countries, including the United States, Canada, and those in Western Europe, the progress made in treating childhood cancer over the last 50 years has been one of modern medicine’s true success stories. In the United States, 80 percent of children survive their cancer diagnoses and have access to state-of-the art care.
This dramatic improvement in prognosis results from a number of factors, including: earlier disease recognition and improved diagnosis, the development of highly effective chemotherapy, better antibiotics and supportive care, and the implementation of coordinated multi-disciplinary care among all of the necessary pediatric specialties (i.e., hematology-oncology, surgery, radiation therapy, critical care, infectious disease, nursing, and pharmacy).
Although these achievements indicate significant progress in the treatment of childhood cancer in developed nations, today 80 percent of children with cancer live in the developing world, with a large portion living in sub-Saharan Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, approximately 100,000 children per year develop cancer and up to 90 percent of these children die.
Pediatric blood diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa occur three to four times more frequently than pediatric cancer. Disorders like sickle cell disease, which can be managed with proper medicines and care, unfortunately claim the lives of many children in these same regions. Inherited bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia, occur in newborns at the same frequency in both sub-Saharan Africa and the United States, and inherited hemoglobin disorders (e.g., sickle cell disease) are about 40 times more frequent in sub-Saharan African than in the United States whereas children born with hemophilia or sickle cell disease in the U.S. or Europe live to adulthood.
Access to quality care is often late and typically these children die without their parents or clinicians ever knowing the diagnosis. This is combined with a healthcare workforce that is not trained to treat these diseases, lack of access to modern-day medications, and a generally sub-standard healthcare infrastructure.