St. Jude and WHO Unite to Save Lives

The greatest predictor of survival for a child with cancer is where that child happens to live. St. Jude and World Health Organization join forces to change that sobering fact.

 

By Karlisa Cryer; Photos by Jere Parobek 

 
Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, talks to Gabriel Alessandro Mayorga Hernandez at a table

Progress toward the goal

St. Jude hasn’t finished what we started in 1962, so we are continuing to work toward that goal of a day where no child should die in the dawn of life,” says Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD (at right), St. Jude executive vice president and Global Pediatric Medicine chair, shown with Gabriel Alessandro Mayorga Hernandez.

 

As an 11-year-old living in the capital city of El Salvador, Gabriel Alessandro Mayorga Hernandez was an avid soccer player. One day, he suddenly lacked the energy to complete a match. A doctor’s visit revealed he had acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Flash forward to September 2018, as Gabriel, now a healthy 16-year-old, takes center stage at a United Nations General Assembly meeting — part of a momentous announcement between St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and World Health Organization (WHO).

 
 

Gabriel’s astounding recovery is due in part to the fact that St. Jude forged partnerships with El Salvador’s government and nonprofit sector long before his birth. As a result, the survival rate for childhood cancer in that country has skyrocketed.

Now, St. Jude and WHO have launched an effort with an ambitious goal: to cure at least 60% of the children with six of the most common cancers by 2030.

“It’s a daring dream, but one that’s within our reach. In science and medicine, collaboration is the engine that drives progress,” says James R. Downing, MD, St. Jude president and chief executive officer. “Imagine what great feats we can achieve together, working across disciplines, across borders and around the world.

“Together, we will give children the best hope for their futures — no matter where they live.”

“Imagine what great feats we can achieve together, working across disciplines, across borders and around the world.”

James R. Downing, MD

 

Answers to a global problem

Several years ago, St. Jude leadership took stock of the state of childhood cancer care by asking a simple question: How do we accelerate progress? They looked for gaps in knowledge and opportunities to advance care for childhood cancer and other deadly diseases.

What did they learn?

The greatest predictor of survival for a child with cancer is where the child happens to live.

Globally, the figures are staggering. Each year, more than 300,000 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer. Most children in developed countries, such as the United States, survive their disease. But 80% of children worldwide live in low- and middle-income countries.

In those areas, less than 20% survive.

Downing and Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, St. Jude executive vice president and Global Pediatric Medicine chair, created a blueprint for transforming those odds. The program is called St. Jude Global.

James R. Downing, MD, and HRH Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan sit at a panel table

Collaborating to cure

James R. Downing, MD, St. Jude president and chief executive officer, and HRH Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan discuss the World Health Organization collaboration.

Partnership to save young lives

St. Jude Global develops multi-faceted networks to improve access to care, enhance quality of care and create sustainable infrastructures worldwide. The hospital’s global efforts have been enhanced by joining forces with WHO, an entity with the standing, history and expertise to further expand reach and impact.

The first step of this partnership occurred in March 2018, when WHO named St. Jude as its first Collaborating Center for Childhood Cancer.

Six months later, leaders from St. Jude and WHO met at the United Nations to announce the global childhood cancer initiative.

Marlo Thomas addresses participants at the UN headquarters

Hope for all children

St. Jude National Outreach Director Marlo Thomas addresses participants gathered at the United Nations headquarters.

Fulfillment of a dream

The global childhood cancer partnership will combine St. Jude expert technical support and resources with WHO authority working with governments and leaders across health systems regionally and globally.

“Our new endeavor with WHO brings together the strengths of the two organizations to expand services, capacities and partnerships for tackling childhood cancer,” Downing explains. “It’s my hope that by uniting St. Jude, World Health Organization and our global partners, we can transform the international landscape of childhood cancer – and save many more lives of children, now and for years to come.”

Rodriguez-Galindo says the new initiative allows the hospital to take the logical next step toward fulfilling its mission.

St. Jude was established by the entertainer Danny Thomas more than half a century ago,” he says. “The son of Lebanese immigrants, he had a unique perspective on our responsibility to one another. It doesn’t mean we need to restrict our efforts and our vision to children in Memphis, Tennessee, or the United States. St. Jude hasn’t finished what we started in 1962, so we are continuing to work toward that goal of a day where no child should die in the dawn of life.”

From Promise, Winter, 2019

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