To mark International Childhood Cancer Day, we turn the spotlight on My Child Matters (MCM), a program to fight childhood cancer in developing countries.
Diseases with very different consequences depending on the region
400,000 children worldwide are diagnosed with cancer every year. But depending on where you live, the chances of survival are very unequal.
"There is 80% survival in high-income countries, compared to 20% survival in low-income countries. Yet 80% of the world's children live in low-income countries"
Professor Eric Bouffet, Chairman of the Foundation S My Child Matters Expert Committee, former President of the International Society of Pediatric Oncology and member of the Board of Directors of the International Union Against Cancer.
"The aim of all the members of the My Child Matters expert committee is to promote pediatric oncology as much as possible in countries with limited resources, and to ensure that these children are not left behind," asserts Pr. Bouffet.
In his role, Eric Bouffet contributes his expertise alongside Isabelle Villadary, a medical doctor by training, a specialist in public health and the My Child Matters initiative, for which she is responsible within Foundation S. This program focuses on the fight against childhood cancer in low and middle-income countries.
children are diagnosed with cancer worldwide
survival in high-income countries
survival in low-income countries
My Child Matters, a historic and pioneering program
Since 2005, My Child Matters has supported more than 80 projects in three priority regions: Asia, Africa and Latin America. Fifteen years after the project's inception, the needs continue to evolve.
"The current priority is to prevent people from dropping out of treatment for social, economic, religious or other reasons. The second priority is to enable early diagnosis: the earlier cancer is detected, the better the child's chances of recovery, as treatment is less stressful and costly, and the disease is more likely to be stopped in time," explains Pr Bouffet.
"Today, the emphasis at Foundation S is on the impact of projects and their potential to be scaled up or duplicated in another country."
"Another important area for the program in 2023 is social and organizational innovation, or how communities, parents, are involved, and how the selected projects improve the organization of care for these children," she points out.
Through this program, Foundation S aims to play a key role in achieving the World Health Organization's target for pediatric cancers: 60% survival rate for all children with cancer by 2030, wherever they live. As we enter 2023, Foundation S is gearing up to support new projects.
The selection committee, chaired by Pr Bouffet and Dr Villadary, is made up of twelve people with varied and complementary backgrounds: onco-pediatricians, representatives of parents' associations, nurses, public health experts, all from the program's three target regions or working closely with teams in these regions. They are keen to select innovative projects led by competent teams, with clear objectives and precise expected impacts.
Achieving this objective also involves setting up partnerships with structures in identified priority areas. These strategic alliances facilitate links with the field and the dissemination of best practices. In Africa, Foundation S is a partner of the Groupe Franco-Africain d'Oncologie Pédiatrique, a network of 24 pediatric oncology units in 18 African countries. In addition, Foundation S has just signed a partnership agreement with the Sant Joan de Déu hospital in Barcelona to deploy a virtual training platform for doctors and nurses in Latin America.
A key tool for success: the "Open Data" platform
With the collective at the heart of the Foundation S approach, in 2022 My Child Matters acquired a tool to encourage the dissemination of the expertise generated by the program since its inception: the My Child Matters "Open Data" platform.
"It's open. It's aimed at doctors, at any team in these low-resource countries," explains Dr Villadary. "It's designed to stimulate interaction and networking, so that we don't have to rethink projects from scratch every time. It helps identify common problems and solutions that can be duplicated."
Putting this regularly updated website online helps to multiply sharing between players, like what is happening between Pakistan and Indonesia. "In 2018, a project aimed to develop comprehensive treatment centers for childhood brain tumors in Pakistan. At the time, we started with just one center in Pakistan; today, there are 13," recounts Pr Bouffet. "There are still things to be done, but it's clear that this project serves as an example for other countries. Right now, we're trying to develop the same thing with Indonesia, which has roughly the same population density and the same needs."
This "Open data" platform also enables us to reach out to other medical communities and make scientific publications on the projects more accessible. "The next step is to be able to put online a library of scientific publications generated by My Child Matters, giving them greater visibility and thus generating new projects," says Dr Villadary.
Over the past 15 years, the impact of My Child Matters has been undeniable, and is growing tenfold. "If this program didn't exist, there would be a big void," says Prof. Bouffet. "The place that My Child Matters has taken was empty in 2005. Now it's a place that can't be ignored.
"I think Foundation S, with its My Child Matters program, has understood that the number one prognostic factor for a child with cancer isn't their cancer, it's where they were born."
February 15: a worldwide day to fight childhood cancer
Every year, February 15 is the International Childhood Cancer Day. This year, the theme of the annual campaign is "Better Survival is achievable #ThroughTheirHands", to highlight the contribution of families and caregivers in the day-to-day fight.