Thank you to all those who have supported World Child Cancer's project in the Philippines. Below is an update on the work you have supported.
With donations made through GlobalGiving, World Child Cancer has supported the development of the Mindanao Paediatric Cancer Care Network. This is in addition to our original partner, the Southern Philippines Medical Centre (SPMC), which has an additional five shared care centres in existing government hospitals in strategically chosen locations across the island. Each hospital has a paediatrician with an interest in childhood cancer and is supported to develop the skills and the level of diagnosis and treatment they can offer; only referring children to SPMC when they need treatment that is not available locally. This model has already increased the number of children diagnosed to nearly 400 a year and the survival rate for common cancers to over 65%. A significant reason for this increase is because care closer to home means that more children are diagnosed and start treatment, and fewer abandon it. It also means that the treatment has less impact on the family as costs and time away from home are far less. With more common cancers treated locally the team at SPMC has been able to focus on the more complex cases. We believe there is significantly more support needed for the network, both to improve care at existing centres but also to expand it by adding new centres to provide greater geographical coverage on the island.
The impact of corona virus on the programme
Children with cancer, who are immunocompromised are arguably the most vulnerable children in the world now. Whilst, so far, there are only a few cases of Corona Virus on Mindanao the government enforced a national lock down. This means that children from outside Davao have been unable to get to SPMC for treatment and that the shared care network is coming into its own. However, doctors are treating far more complex cases of cancer than they would have done previously – so support from SPMC is critical.
We also have a duty to prepare all our programmes for local escalations of the virus – the potential vulnerability of the children demands it. We need to ensure that health workers have adequate “PPE” or personal protective equipment, both to protect themselves and to protect the children. We have seen in other countries that during the lock down families require private cars to get to hospital. For many the buses, which are now not running, are all that they can afford, so we have put aside a patient support fund which can be used to support families, and avoid children abandoning treatment on cost grounds; a decision that invariably leads to death.
Expected impact of the project
This is a pioneering project of global significance. The approach has more than doubled the number of children with cancer that receive treatment on an island with many remote communities in under five years. In addition the survival rate for common cancers has increased to over 65% with initially just one paediatric oncologist. Further improvement is possible on Mindanao, but first we must overcome the impact of the Corona virus.
Our work in the Philippines has taken on added significance as the WHO selected the Philippines as a pilot country for the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer. Proving that we have developed a model that can provide treatment in countries with few paediatric oncologists and multiple barriers to travel in a WHO pilot country is likely to increase our success when advocating for the implementation of similar models in other countries.