Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers, Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative at Texas Children’s Hospital (BIPAI) and several global partners recently celebrated the graduation of the first class of the East African Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Fellowship Program at Makerere University College of Health Sciences.
The East Africa Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Fellowship Training Program is the result of cooperation and commitment between some of the most eminent institutions in Africa and on the world-stage in cancer care, medical education, health policy, and pediatric hematology and oncology. As part of the comprehensive Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence) initiative, which launched in February 2017, the two-year fellowship program is building a critical mass of pediatric hematology-oncology specialists to independently provide effective, evidence-based pediatric cancer and hematology care in the African setting.
In the United States, 80 percent of children with cancer survive. In sub-Saharan Africa, the overwhelming majority of pediatric patients do not. The mortality rate is estimated to be as high as 90 percent, meaning that thousands of children die from cancer across Africa each year, with the most common types of childhood cancers being blood cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma.
Most childhood cancers are treatable. However, up until this point, the main reason for the staggering death rate across Africa has been due to an inadequate health care infrastructure and a significant lack of expert physicians and other health care workers trained to treat children with cancer and blood disorders. With the ambitious efforts of Global HOPE to build medical capacity to diagnose and treat pediatric blood disorders and cancer in Africa, the impact is already evident in the higher numbers of children receiving care in Uganda, Botswana and Malawi.
“Traditionally, physicians in Africa have gone abroad to obtain higher specialist clinical training, and often do not return,” said Dr. David Poplack, director of Global HOPE and associate director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. “By training physicians through the fellowship program, we are increasing the number of pediatric hematology-oncology specialists who will be practicing in East Africa. This will improve the overall survival for children with cancer and blood diseases in the region.”
At the graduation ceremony, Poplack was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Science from Makerere University for his academic contribution in the field of science. Under his leadership for the last 25 years, Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers established itself as an internationally-recognized leader in the treatment and research of pediatric cancer and blood disorders. With a desire to expand care to areas of the world with limited resources, Poplack and his team have worked over the past decade to provide care to children in sub-Saharan Africa. With the inception of Global HOPE, access to care will only continue to increase with this training of pediatric hematology-oncology physicians through the fellowship program.
“This first class of graduates of the fellowship program represents an exponential increase in the number of pediatric oncologists in east Africa – and by extension – a huge increase in the number of children diagnosed with cancer who may now receive high quality treatment and the chance of recovery,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “We congratulate the graduating physicians and are proud to support the creation of a sustainable, highly qualified team of oncology and hematology healthcare providers in southern and east Africa, to help change the health outcomes for children.”
Partners involved in the Global HOPE initiative include: The Ministry of Health of the Republic of Uganda, Makerere University College of Health Sciences, East African Community, Uganda Cancer Institute, Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation- Uganda, Mulago National Referral Hospital and the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation.