International cooperation curing cancer children

Cai Wenjun
Shanghai Children's Medical Center (SCMC) and US-based St Jude Children's Research Hospital get together to help underprivileged children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Cai Wenjun

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is a children’s disease with a cure rate of nearly 90 percent in developed countries but a low survival rate in countries with limited resources due to financial issues and medical capabilities.

International cooperation, support from the government and charity organizations, perfect treatment plans and a multi-centered network are key to solve the problem, which has proved effective through the practice of Shanghai Children’s Medical Center (SCMC) and the US-based St Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

The SCMC’s Dr Tang Jingyan and St Jude’s Dr Ching-Hon Pui have published an article in world leading medical journal JAMA Oncology to share their experience of how to help children with poor access to treatment.

After learning in 2003 that most children in China with the disease abandoned treatment mainly for financial reasons and that only 30 percent of patients in the rural areas received proper treatment, St Jude teamed up with SCMC and the Beijing Children’s Hospital to work out an efficacious and cost-effective treatment protocol for underprivileged children with low- or intermediate-risk ALL whose families could not afford treatment.

The cost of therapy was met by the Hope Foundation (Hong Kong). Of 155 patients treated, 131, or 84.5 percent, are in remission.

Due to the protocol’s success, China’s health authorities developed a scheme to increase health care access for low-income individuals with serious diseases and cover most of the treatment expenses for 95 percent of the rural population, the article said.

In 2010, childhood ALL was selected as one of the three highly curable diseases to test the new scheme. In the first year of the program, treatment access was provided to more than 7,000 children with low- or intermediate-risk ALL. The scheme has now been extended to all children with ALL, as well as to those with other serious diseases.

St Jude has partnered with SCMC to launch initiatives to enhance the survival rate and life quality for children with ALL and promote research to optimize treatment for future patients. This led SCMC to develop the China National ALL Study Group in 2014 that included 20 major hospitals and medical centers covering 65 percent of the Chinese population.

In 2018, a hematology-oncology alliance was created to facilitate and promote clinical care and research across 49 tertiary hospitals in 27 provinces and municipalities, covering 80 to 90 percent of the Chinese population. The Chinese Childhood Leukemia Registry, the first national cancer registry in China, was established in 2018 under the management of SCMC.

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