Childhood Cancer in Developing Countries
Although people have made significant progress in treating communicable diseases in childhood, one cannot say the same about reducing childhood cancer in developing countries. In fact, many did not consider it a public health problem in the developing world until recently. The mortality rate is currently an alarming 80 percent in developing countries with 160,000 new cases each year. Tragically, many could receive treatment from generic medications if they receive the right foreign aid according to Republican Congressman Michael McCaul. Children with cancer living in low to middle-income countries are four times as likely to die of their disease as children living in high-income countries. 

Challenges Ahead

In order to reduce morbidity rates from childhood cancer in developing countries, people on the ground will face significant challenges. U.S. researchers reported that the median cost for 15 different generic drugs was only $120 in South Africa and $654 in the U.S., yet many people cannot even afford the lowest drug prices. The reason is that the drugs are actually more expensive when compared to per capita GDP (the average person’s total economic output). In Australia, generic drug prices were 8 percent of per capita GDP compared to 33 percent in India. The question of how many people will be unable to receive treatment despite lower drug prices remains. Another challenge is that many children will have already reached the late stages of the disease and perhaps even have comorbid HIV as with the Burkitt lymphoma trial in Malawi. The trial failed to reach two-thirds the cure rate of developing countries despite patients receiving intensive chemotherapy treatment.

New Legislation Passed

Yet there is hope. The U.S. House of Representatives has recently passed a bill to address the issue. McCaul and Democrat Congressman Eliot Engel introduced the Global Hope Act of 2019 and demonstrated that the two parties are still capable of swiftly passing bipartisan legislation despite increased polarization in the country.

The congressmen introduced the bill on December 10, 2019, and the House passed the bill on January 27, 2020. The bill aims to improve the survival rate of children living with cancer in developing countries. It will support the Global Health Organization’s initiative to increase the survival rate of children with cancer to 60 percent by 2030.

How it Works

One of the main focal points of the bill is improving the availability and cost of existing medicines and developing new ones. People have already developed much of the infrastructure from previous aid directed toward communicable diseases, but the bill seeks to enhance infrastructure as well. As outlined by the foreign affairs committee’s press release, the bill will help increase the survival rate of children with cancer by:

  • Supporting efforts to train medical personnel and develop healthcare infrastructure to diagnose, treat, and care for children with cancer
  • Leveraging private sector resources to increase the availability of cancer medicines
  • Improving access to affordable medicines and technology that are essential to cancer treatment
  • Coordinating with international partners to expand research efforts to develop affordable cancer medicines and treatments

Childhood cancer is the second leading cause of death in childhood worldwide, second only to accidents. Though the issue remained in the shadow of communicable diseases for years, people are starting to take notice. The new legislation passed in the house addresses many of the barriers to a high survival rate for childhood cancer in developing countries.

– Caleb Carr
Photo: United Nations