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St. Jude Children's Research Hospital’s International Outreach Program is encouraging and promoting other pediatric oncology centers of excellence in resource-rich countries to establish collaborative programs in which the resource-rich center mentors a center in a developing, resource-poor country. The challenges to improving pediatric cancer care and survival in resource-poor countries are gaining international attention and recognition; children with cancer in such countries can be successfully treated and cured.
The twinning approach, which has been successful in many resource-poor countries, usually involves the development or the enhancement of dedicated pediatric cancer units within cancer centers, pediatric hospitals, or other major health care institutions to expand access to care for children with cancer and to improve cure rates. A long-term commitment from both partners is essential and must include all aspects of a successful program: trained personnel; availability of basic drugs, equipment and supplies; and relationships with parents’ groups, the extended medical community, and the community at large. The success of these programs is gauged by the number of children treated, the proportion of children who complete treatment (abandonment of treatment is a problem in most low-income countries, where families cannot afford the medical and non-medical costs of treating a child), and the number of successfully treated patients who go on to live full lives.
Successful pediatric oncology twinning programs have been established by St. Jude’s International Outreach Program in 20 partner sites worldwide. A Guide for Establishing a Pediatric Oncology Twinning Program was published in 2008 to assist other institutions to develop effective and sustainable twinning partnerships. It was crafted via a comprehensive literature review and St. Jude’s International Outreach Program’s experiences in developing and sustaining successful twinning initiatives. The guide provides a summary of activities and components required to establish a twinning initiative and serves as a roadmap to developing a successful program. St. Jude’s International Outreach Program is willing to assist any potential mentor organization to develop, execute, and sustain a twinning initiative with a resource-poor country.