An ambitious Sanofi Espoir Foundation program to provide children in developing nations with access to cancer care has helped to propel survival rates by as much as 17.5 percent over the past decade, according to results published in the medical journal Lancet. The contribution of “My Child Matters” program, in collaboration with governments and NGOs in 10 nations, resulted in a median survival increase of 5.1 percent – saving the lives of more than 1,300 children a year.
The program was launched by the Sanofi Espoir Foundation in 2005 to address the problems of providing care for childhood cancer patients in lower-income nations or regions. The first projects on the ground began the following year and sought to work local organizations to increase access to diagnosis, treatment and follow-up for thousands of children who otherwise might have had few if any options.
Cancer is diagnosed annually in about 215,000 under age 15 worldwide, and is a leading cause of death for children in developing and developed nations alike.
Treatments have improved markedly over the past several decades and significantly reduced mortality in developed nations, where the overall survival rate now exceed 80 percent. But the same is not the case for patients in developing nations, who lack the resources and access available in developed countries.
The My Child Matters program was created to begin to address this imbalance. In some cases, the improvements noted in the reported results stem from simply increasing awareness of childhood cancers and their symptoms, so that more patients are getting a correct diagnosis early enough to arrest the progress of the disease. In others, training for health care professionals helped reduce therapy abandonment and increased access to palliative care.
In setting up the program, Sanofi established close links with experts in pediatric oncology around the world to provide advice and mentoring. Specialists from France, Italy, the UK, Germany, Ghana, Hong Kong, Canada and the US not only contribute individual support, they also participate in a panel that rigorously evaluates new projects as well as existing ones on an annual basis.
While the program itself is only one of many factors behind the improvements identified in the study, its function as a catalyst for government and NGO participation has meant that more extensive projects have been possible than with the Sanofi-Espoir Foudation alone.
“We’re only a few people at the Sanofi Espoir Foundation level,” noted Gagnepain-Lacheteau. Without collaboration it would have been impossible for My Child Matters to have expanded to its current size, supporting 55 pediatric cancer projects in 42 countries in nations from Bangladesh and Vietnam to Tanzania, Honduras and Ukraine.
In fact, according to the study of the 10 “index” nations, sustained leadership on a local level was a strong predictor of successful outcomes for patients. My Child Matters has also connected health-care professionals and community members from diverse centers in five continents and provided leadership training and networking opportunities to participants.