16.02.2021 Feature Article

Childhood Cancer: The Need for Country-Specific Actions

Childhood Cancer: The Need for Country-Specific Actions
16.02.2021 LISTEN

All over the world, the incidence of childhood cancer is increasing astronomically. This is a worrying public health concern that demands priority attention now more than ever. There have been significant steps towards raising awareness about cancers within the general population. For instance, in the month of October, various Non-Governmental Organisations and Civil Society Organisation, as well as individuals, embark on various campaigns on breast cancer and the need to undergo regular screening in order to promote early detection and treatment. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said for awareness of childhood cancer (i.e., cancers that arise in a person before the age of 18).

Many people have some misconceptions about cancers. Some believe that cancer is a disease for only the aged as well as persons who are exposed to radiation, tobacco and alcohol and that it cannot affect children. Owing to these misconceptions, childhood cancer, especially in Africa, has remained woefully campaigned and explored. This situation has led to an increased incidence of childhood cancer globally and far worsened in low-and-middle-income countries (LMICs).

Statistics available indicates that there is a substantial disparity in the likelihood of survival for children with cancer, with the odds being more favourable to children in high-income countries. It is estimated that about 80 percent of children with cancer will survive in high-income countries, however, in LMICs, only 20 percent of children with cancer will survive. This wide disparity could be attributed to a number of factors that abound in LMICs including late or missed diagnosis, lack of diagnostic facilities, lack of trained staff to manage such complex diseases, and high rates of treatment refusal and abandonment as a result of low awareness and knowledge about the disease.

It is therefore imperative for the international community to augment global action and efforts towards reduction in the incidence of, and proper management of childhood cancer. Hence, the 15th of February has been earmarked as an International Day that raises the awareness of Childhood Cancer. Beyond the day of awareness, the WHO in 2018 launched the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC) which envisions to increase countries’ capacity to provide quality services for children with cancer as well as prioritise childhood cancer nationally, regionally and globally to spark action.

Despite these well-meaning interventions and plan of action at the global and international level, there is an urgent need for country-specific actions in order to achieve the objectives of the GICC. Situations in high income and LMICs differ significantly. Hence, interventions that work in one may not necessarily work in another context. There are socio-cultural, economic and spiritual perspectives to childhood cancer that reinforces people’s beliefs and readiness to work towards creating awareness about it. To this end, I recommend that individual countries invest in childhood cancer research in their respective countries in order to know the specific issues and perspectives underlying the disease and its management in that social context. Basing on the results from this empirical evidence, individual countries can now draw their guidelines and plan of action that will ensure that there is substantial awareness of the disease; early detection and treatment; and, greater odds of survivorship.

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