In September 1962, the same year St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital opened its doors, President John F. Kennedy went to a football stadium in Texas to reiterate the United States’ commitment to put a man on the moon.
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” Kennedy said.
Before the address, the president underlined the last word in blue ink. (The Apollo 11 astronauts set foot on the moon July 20, 1969.)
Curing cancer is harder than putting a man on the moon. In the 1950s, only 10% of children with cancer survived. Yet, progress is clear.
In the U.S. today, more than 80% of children with cancer survive. The prognosis, however, for children with cancer in low- and middle-income countries — where more than 80% of all children with cancer live — remains grim.
Most of them will die because of their disease.
St. Jude Founder Danny Thomas believed that no child should die in the dawn of life. James R. Downing, MD, St. Jude president and chief executive officer, expands upon that sentiment.
“Our mission is to find cures and save children — regardless of where they live,” he says.
Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, executive vice president and director of St. Jude Global, puts the monumental task into perspective. “This is our moonshot,” he says.
The Global Alliance family
The St. Jude Global Alliance gives St. Jude Global its full meaning—uniting institutions, foundations, doctors, nurses and other partners who are committed to improving care for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
“We want to build a family,” Rodriguez-Galindo says. “This is how we will succeed.”
The Global Alliance offers its partners collaboration opportunities that provide the evidence-based knowledge they need to make significant and long-lasting progress against pediatric cancer.
“We empower people,” Rodriguez-Galindo says.
Building capacity — the workforce and resource development necessary to create a durable response — is crucial. St. Jude Global takes a tiered approach that encompasses individuals, institutions, countries, regions, and ultimately, the globe.
But the alliance is more than just an initiative. It’s a global family.
“We all share the dining table, if you wish,” Rodriguez-Galindo says.
Soon, they may need to lift the table’s drop leaf to make room for additional chairs.
In December 2018, the first St. Jude Global Alliance meeting drew more than 200 people from more than 50 countries. Two years later, more than 800 people spanning 71 countries joined the first day of the virtual St. Jude Global Alliance convening.
Without a doubt, the face-to-face model of engagement yields dividends.
When St. Jude Global staff travel to other countries, they attend hospital rounds. They spend days embedded in local health care systems. They look doctors and nurses in the eye. They talk to ministers of health and ministers of finance.
They want to convey a simple message: “We’re here to help.”
We have a better chance in fighting cancer in children when we are together.
With this alliance with you, we definitely feel that we have a partner;
that we are not on our own.
A pandemic pivot
Throughout 2020, the pandemic’s destructive effects — shortages of supplies, equipment and staff, to name a few — unfurled across Asia Pacific, Central and South America, China, the Eastern Mediterranean, Eurasia, Mexico and Sub-Saharan Africa, the regions that form the St. Jude Global Alliance.
In moments of uncertainty, Rodriguez-Galindo is likely to say, “Cancer doesn’t wait, and neither do we.”
As a result of the pandemic, he and his colleagues pivoted.
“Now we have a whole different way of working,” he says.
The face-to-face model of engagement ceded to a virtual one. The St. Jude Global Alliance Online Community, the newly created Global COVID-19 Observatory and Resource Center for Childhood Cancer, and other web-based tools made it possible for Global Alliance members to continue their work.
December’s gathering of alliance members — with the theme “We are complete when we are together” — was an entirely virtual event.
“The goal of the convening was to give people an opportunity to connect, to focus on our members after a difficult year and to ignite momentum for 2021,” says Whitney Foster, program manager for St. Jude Global Operations.
The event included a panel discussion about resilience and teamwork. Alliance members attended workshops, took part in live Q&A sessions and learned about new tools. Participants also interacted with staff from the St. Jude Global Regional and Transversal programs and education teams; ALSAC, the hospital’s fundraising organization; and Together, an online resource for childhood cancer created by St. Jude. Along the way, participants learned about remarkable global partnerships, such as the World Health Organization Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer.
“I think people felt at home,” Rodriguez-Galindo says.
A video called Inspiring Hope debuted at the event. In the video, Global Alliance members convey an optimistic message.
“With this alliance with you, we definitely feel that we have a partner; that we are not on our own,” says video participant Gita Naidu, MD, of South Africa.
“We have a better chance in fighting cancer in children when we are together,” adds Allen Yeoh, MBBS, of Singapore.
“I found a family,” says Luis Fernando Mendoza-Moreno, MD, of Mexico.
I found a family.
Unified by family and hope
“We have more than 500 projects around the world right now from education to operations to quality improvement,” Rodriguez-Galindo says.
He’s understandably hard-pressed to select one top achievement.
“There are many examples,” he says. “In each region, you would find them.”
But it may be possible to rank one project high on the list — the growth of the alliance family, who work tirelessly together to achieve a lofty goal.
Monika Metzger, MD, director of the Central and South American Region, asked members attending one convening session a question: “What motivates you to get out of bed each morning?”
A doctor from Nicaragua, a developing country with a history of civil war and economic hardship, spoke up.
“How much time do I have?” she said.
Ears perked, Rodriguez-Galindo listened in. He recalls her words: “I just have hope,” the doctor said. “I keep working for that hope — to give hope and to receive hope.”
From Promise, Spring 2021