Childhood Cancer Medicines Still Inaccessible in Low-Income Countries
During his weekly press briefing in Geneva, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), revealed that only a quarter of low-income countries currently provide coverage for childhood cancer medicines through public benefits.
This lack of accessibility has dire consequences for children and families, subjecting them to significant suffering, financial hardship, or worse, putting them at risk of receiving substandard and falsified medications.
Consequently, the survival rate for children battling cancer in these countries is distressingly low, standing at less than 30 percent. This is in stark contrast to the impressive 90 percent survival rate for children in high-income countries.
WHO’s Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer
To tackle this pressing issue, the WHO, in partnership with the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital based in the United States, a renowned non-profit pediatric treatment and research facility specializing in leukemia and other cancers, launched the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer back in 2018.
The overarching goal of this initiative is to achieve a minimum 60 percent survival rate for childhood cancer patients in low and middle-income countries by the year 2030.
Specifically focusing on addressing six highly curable types of cancer, which collectively represent more than half of all childhood cancer cases, this initiative strives to make a significant impact on improving survival rates worldwide.
Access to Quality-Assured Medicines at No Cost
In December 2021, the WHO and St. Jude jointly initiated a global program with the aim of improving access to childhood cancer medicines.
Mr. Tedros emphasized that the primary objective of this program is to provide universal and sustained access to quality-assured essential cancer medicine for children in developing economies, free of charge.
This vital effort aims to relieve the burden of exorbitant medical expenses on vulnerable families and ensure that every child has the best chance of survival and recovery.
WHO’s New Essential Medicines List
Today, the WHO announced a significant update to the Essential Medicines List and the Essential Medicines List for Children. Among the new additions are crucial cancer medicines, alongside treatments for multiple sclerosis, infectious diseases, and cardiovascular conditions, among others.
These additions are expected to have a profound public health impact worldwide without jeopardizing the health budgets of low and middle-income countries.
Alarming Heat-Related Deaths in Europe
Amid the ongoing heatwave across the northern hemisphere, the WHO has reported distressing news about Europe. An estimated 61,000 people lost their lives due to heat-related causes last month, highlighting the severity of heat stress on human health and well-being.
Heat Stress and its Health Implications
Heat stress refers to the body’s inability to cool itself efficiently, leading to exhaustion or heat stroke. The WHO has linked heat stress to the exacerbation of various health conditions, including cardiovascular, respiratory, and kidney diseases, as well as mental health problems.
Vulnerable Populations at Risk
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed deep concern about the impact of extreme weather conditions on the health of vulnerable populations.
He particularly highlighted those living in conflict-affected areas or displaced communities, where access to safe water, sanitation, cooling facilities, and medical supplies is limited or non-existent.
Urgent Need for Precautionary Measures
In response to this pressing issue, Mr. Tedros called on governments to establish early-warning and response systems, develop strategies tailored for both the general population and vulnerable groups, and create effective communication plans.
Additionally, he underscored the urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to protect the planet and safeguard all forms of life. By doing so, the international community can take proactive steps toward mitigating the devastating impacts of extreme heat and ensuring the well-being of people worldwide.