St. Jude doctors implement model pediatric cancer program in El Salvador: featured at American Society of Hematology meeting, December 6

December 04, 1999

Featured at American Society of Hematology Meeting, December 6

(MEMPHIS, TENN., DECEMBER 5, 1999) A model program proven to dramatically increase cure rates for pediatric cancer is being established by St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Judy Wilimas, St. Jude Director of Central American Programs in the International Outreach Department, will be a featured presenter at the American Society of Hematology Meeting, December 3-6. Wilimas' paper on the international outreach program in El Salvador was chosen from more than 5,000 abstracts as an example of innovative and outstanding work in the field of hematology/oncology. The program will serve as a model for international outreach programs around the world.

Pediatric oncology is one of the success stories of modern medicine in developed countries, with cure rates approaching 80 percent for many tumors. However, 75 percent of the world's pediatric cancer patients live in developing countries. Children living in these countries, such as El Salvador, are faced with a far less hopeful statistic - a cure rate of at best 25 percent. Recognizing these inequities, in 1993, St. Jude staff created a successful pediatric hematology/oncology partnership program in El Salvador. They brought St. Jude's leading cancer treatment to El Salvador and offered children and families new hope for cancer survival.

This new program uses modern methods to diagnose and treat all types of pediatric cancer, specifically the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). More than 80 percent of the children enrolled in this new program achieved remission, and 50 to 70 percent of the children are cured.

"There is a huge unmet need in the world in terms of treating children with diseases like cancer," Wilimas said. "As rudimentary health care and nutrition needs are increasingly met, it becomes possible to address catastrophic childhood illnesses such as cancer. With programs like the one in El Salvador, it is possible to improve cure rates so dramatically - by 40 to 50 percent."

The St. Jude El Salvador program identified five major components for developing a successful program. First, the involvement of local leaders who provided support and identified funding sources for the program. Second, careful evaluation of resources and needs. Third, the training of physicians, nurses, laboratory personnel and fundraisers. Fourth, financial support for operational needs, including physician's salaries, equipment, laboratory testing, drugs and educational programs. Fifth, a standardized treatment approach, in this case for leukemia, based on a modified St. Jude protocol.

Wilimas said she thinks leaders and health care providers in developing countries are eager to develop such programs to improve the survival of children.

"When I was working with medical staff in El Salvador, I was impressed by the level of dedication I witnessed," Wilimas said. "Nurses were eager to obtain new knowledge and training, even though this meant extra work - and no extra pay - for them. Their motivation, simply, is to save the children."

"It is so fulfilling to see this type of growth and development from a world health perspective," Wilimas said.

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, was founded by the late entertainer Danny Thomas. The hospital is an internationally recognized biomedical research hospital dedicated to finding cures for catastrophic diseases of childhood. The hospital's work is supported through funds raised by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC). All patients are treated regardless of their ability to pay. ALSAC covers all costs of treatment beyond those reimbursed by third party insurers and total costs for families who have no insurance.
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For more information, contact Deidre Malone or Bert Kelly, St. Jude public relations at 901-495-3306 or Lorna Bennett, Porter Novelli, 312-856-8857

Porter Novelli

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