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A woman holding a child, both wearing protective face masks

“If my child is a survivor, any child can survive.” World Child Cancer works to boost survival rates across Africa

“I knew in my heart that the child would die—we struggle even to get daily bread,” said Mirabel, whose two-and-half-year-old daughter Esi had been diagnosed with retinoblastoma. The single mother living in Douala, Cameroon, felt certain the family wouldn’t be able to afford the necessary treatment for the cancer affecting her daughter’s eye, which would not be covered through the country’s national health insurance.

Fortunately, World Child Cancer was there to help Esi get the treatment she needed, going beyond covering the cost of treatment. “Esi was given free treatment, food and transport money, milk, a color book with colored pencils and toys,” said Mirabel.

In the United States and Europe, childhood cancer survival rates generally top 80%. In low- and middle-income countries, on the other hand, that rate can fall as low as 10%. World Child Cancer is working to confront this startling disparity, and a recently concluded two-year grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) helped support the nonprofit’s work in Cameroon, Ghana, Malawi, and Sierra Leone.

World Child Cancer’s approach in these countries has been threefold: raising the level of care available, catching more cases of childhood cancer earlier, and encouraging more families to stick with treatment.

700 health care workers received training and mentorship in how to manage cases of childhood cancer and 1,800 were trained in detecting early warning signs and symptoms of childhood cancer. TV and radio broadcasts reached 15 million people in Cameroon, Ghana, and Malawi with information about what to look out for and messaging about the importance of seeking medical care quickly and, critically, the fact that childhood cancer is curable. As Mirabel tells other parents, “If my child is a survivor, any child can survive.”

Social and financial support from World Child Cancer helped more than 3,000 kids get and stay in treatment, and 89% of those they surveyed said they would have struggled to pursue treatment without this financial support.

Natural and manmade catastrophes from armed conflict to cholera outbreaks to Cyclone Freddy posed serious obstacles getting kids the treatment they need, which were reflected in setbacks the organizations experienced against its goals, yet durable improvements have been achieved. In Ghana, for instance, following advocacy efforts by World Child Cancer and partners, the government has committed that its national health insurance would cover treatment for four common types of childhood cancer.

Access to quality health care is a major focus for SNF, particularly through the ongoing Global Health Initiative (GHI), which includes partnerships to help expand cancer care for children with the King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center in Jordan and Sant Joan de Déu Pediatric Cancer Center in Barcelona. “Every child should have access to the quality health care they need—and, as fundamentally, to the resources needed to identify serious conditions like cancer early,” said SNF Program Officer Ange Munyakazi.

Whereas Mirabel initially saw no options for Esi, her future now seems wide open. “I do not see anything that will disrupt her future because of one eye; she herself will choose what she wants to do in life.”


*Mirabel and Esi’s names have been changed for their privacy.