WHO warns of children’s cancer inequality in Europe |

New WHO The report provides, for the first time, a scale of disparity in childhood cancer in the European Region and examines patterns emerging at the national and regional levels in relation to this disease.

Inequalities in pediatric cancers in the WHO European Region” was launched on International Children’s Cancer Day, which is celebrated on February 15th. and it covers the experience of both patients and caregivers, as well as short-term and long-term outcomes for patients.

Great progress in survival rates

Detailing how the five-year overall survival rate for children with cancer has increased from 30 percent in the 1960s to more than 80 percent in recent times, the report attributes this success to various factors, including better medicines, diagnosis, and access to care.

Last year in the WHO European Region, 4.8 million people were diagnosed with cancer and 2.1 million people died from the disease. In accordance with latest dataevery day more than 1,000 children learn that they have cancer.

“Over the past few decades, tremendous progress has been made in the survival of children with cancer, and today we can cure up to 80 percent of childhood cancers thanks to innovative technologies and improved diagnosis and treatment.” said Dr Nino Berdzuli, Director of Country Health Programs at WHO/Europe, at the presentation of the report.

Explaining that in high-income countries “cancer is no longer a death sentence for children and adolescents”, Dr Berdzuli reiterated that “unfortunately this is not the case in the WHO European Region”.

Reduce gaps

In an address to policy makers, she said that “it is extremely important that, across the region, we work hard to close the gaps that still exist in childhood cancer care and treatment so that every child with cancer has the best chance of life.”

“Death rates range from 9% in some countries of the Region to 57% in others. This stark disparity represents a multitude of inequalities among our youngest vulnerable population… that we urgently need to address,” added Marylis Corbex, Senior Technical Officer, WHO Europe.

Emphasizing that survival rates vary considerably between higher and lower income countries, Ms Corbex also noted that “they can also vary greatly within a country by socioeconomic group or even by gender.”

The report examines how inequalities affect children and families who develop childhood cancer in different ways.: inequality between countries; above the available level of care; between socio-economic status, sex and age; and whether you live in an urban or rural area.

The report also looks at childhood cancer as a cause of disparity, such as how early cancer diagnosis can create or exacerbate disparities, and how hardship for survivors can continue into adulthood, affecting their long-term health, well-being, mental health, and employment opportunities.

Some of the inequalities noted include shortages of drugs in clinics, delayed or inaccurate diagnosis due to lack of awareness of childhood cancer and lack of knowledge of standardized cancer treatment protocols, and a lack of pediatric facilities.

Key Recommendations

Recognizing that countries work from different starting points and that different factors will apply, the WHO said its recommendations aim to reduce inequalities as much as possible.

These include investment in data collection and analysis; providing free diagnostics and treatment to avoid “catastrophic” costs for families; funding training for physicians and nurses to ensure awareness and use of pediatric standardized cancer treatment protocols; supporting survivors through care support plans to cope with long-term consequences; and providing financial and social support to affected families.

Expanding access around the world

Last December, as we reported in UN news, WHO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital have announced a platform that aims to dramatically increase access to childhood cancer medicines worldwide.

Working across borders, sectors and disciplines, Global Initiative to Fight Childhood Cancer will improve outcomes for children with cancer worldwide.

For WHO, according to the findings in the report, the challenge now is to “ensure that children across the Region benefit equally from these advances through a new focus on inequalities”.

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