A new initiative will see SickKids Hospital taking its top-of-the-line health care for children with pediatric cancer and serious blood disorders down south.
Through a partnership with six Caribbean nations, SickKids doctors will be seeking to improve health outcomes for children in Barbados, the Bahamas, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Caribbean-SickKids Paediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Project came about because some of SickKids’ top doctors are natives of Caribbean countries.
“Our former head of cancer and blood disorders, Dr. Victor Blanchette, was brought up in Barbados and Dr. Upton Allen, the head of infectious diseases here, was born in Jamaica,” said SickKids chief of global child health Dr. Stanley Zlotkin. “They have leadership roles here and over the last couple of years, it’s become apparent to them that the survival and recovery rates in the Caribbean are much lower than they are here.”
Zlotkin noted children treated for leukemia at SickKids have an 80 to 90 per cent chance of successfully battling the disease, a number that drops to 50 per cent in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean-SickKids Paediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Project will allow SickKids doctors to provide training to medical professionals from the Caribbean nations and offer ongoing telemedicine support.
Blanchette estimated the program could help with the diagnosis and treatment of 75 cases of newly-diagnosed leukemia or lymphoma each year, with potential cure rates as high as 90 per cent once proper medical equipment and training are in place.
He added, since many children in the Caribbean are of African descent, those nations may see higher incidences of certain cancers, such as Burkitt’s lymphoma.
By simply offering training, SickKids promises to boost the chances of recovery for children in the selected nations, which lack the resources and knowledge in Canada in dealing with childhood cancer and blood disorders.
“Jamaica, until recently, did not have a single pediatric oncologist,” said SickKids Foundation president and CEO Ted Garrard. “Trinidad and Tobago has only one pediatric oncologist, while SickKids alone has 20 pediatric oncologists.”
Dr. Michelle Reece-Mills, who was trained at SickKids, became Jamaica’s first – and to date, its only – fully-trained physician specializing exclusively in children’s cancer and blood disorders.
The SickKids Foundation has already raised about $2 million for the project, with an overall target of raising $8 million over the next five years. Most of the funding will go directly to the Caribbean nations.
“We want to make sure each facility has telemedicine facilities, computers where we can see each other on the screen,” Zlotkin said. “We’ll also be updating the labs down there to make sure they have the best equipment they can.”
The foundation is currently seeking additional funding from partners looking to help improve the health care system for children with cancer and serious blood disorders in the Caribbean.
“We’re looking to the community for philanthropic support,” Garrard said. “Whether that’s Canadian companies that do business in the Caribbean, members of the (Caribbean) diaspora or people who just want to make a difference, we think this is something they’ll want to support.”
The program is slated to run for five years with an end goal of ensuring children living in the six Caribbean countries receive the same quality of care as children treated for cancer and blood disorders at SickKids.
“Our success will be when we leave the program because the survival and recovery rates are as high there as they are here,” Zlotkin said.
For more information on the initiative, visit www.sickkidsfoundation.com/caribbean