My friend Azalea sat in the back seat of her parents’ car, laughing and carrying on without a care in the world. The weight of the world was in the front seat. That’s where her parents, Simone and Ricardo, agonized over a new word they’d just learned. A devastating word. Rhabdomyosarcoma. Cancer of the soft tissue. Azalea was only 2 years old.
The family lived in Jamaica where the cost of Azalea’s three chemotherapy medications — if they were available at all — could easily add up to a full year’s salary.
As a father myself, it’s a story that fills me with dread. Not just for Azalea, but for the more than 400,000 kids who will be stricken with cancer this year around the world.
In high-wealth countries such as the U.S., the overall childhood cancer survival rates, thanks in part to treatments developed at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, have risen to more than 80 percent in the past six decades. In low- and middle-income countries, however, survival rates are less than 30 percent.
This tragic difference is due in large part to the inaccessibility of quality-assured chemotherapy medications administered consistently. In many countries, the family is responsible for sourcing drugs. Imagine that, being responsible for finding the drugs that give your child a chance to survive their cancer diagnosis.
That burden should never fall on the shoulders of moms and dads.
It’s why I’m so grateful St. Jude has announced a new chapter in access to worldwide cancer care and the opportunity to impact more kids around the world. I call it world-changing news.
In partnership with the World Health Organization, St. Jude will establish and fund the Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines. It’s a first-of-its-kind program to provide an uninterrupted supply of childhood cancer medicines to low- and middle-income countries.
The six-year, $200 million investment is the largest financial commitment for a global effort in childhood cancer medicines to date and part of the new $11.5 billion St. Jude strategic plan.
It's a commitment that will provide safe and effective cancer medicines to approximately 120,000 kids, in 50 countries, within six years.
This is an innovative approach to an unyielding global challenge. It’s the love and care promised by Danny Thomas on a global stage.
While Jamaica may not be included in the pilot phase — initial countries have yet to be determined — Azalea’s story put a face on this global problem.
And, it ends on a happy note.
She and her family were referred to St. Jude and made the 1,400-mile trip for what turned into months of treatment, and years of follow-up care. Imagine the cost had it been out of pocket. Imagine those months when, without a consistent supply of the proper medicines, treatment would have been futile if not deadly.
Azalea is just an example of the tens of thousands of other kids around the world whose sole predictor for a healthy outcome is simply where they live. For everyone at St. Jude, as I know it is for you, this is unacceptable.
With your help and continued support, life-changing initiatives like the Global Platform for Access to Childhood Cancer Medicines are made possible.
Together, we’ll change the world.