How PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centres are Supporting Childhood Cancer


Washington, D.C. 12 October 2023 – In a remarkable demonstration of international cooperation, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has joined forces with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) to lead the charge in advancing pediatric cancer care across Latin America and the Caribbean. With nearly 29,000 childhood cancer cases diagnosed annually in the Region, this partnership is poised to be a game-changer. 

St. Jude, renowned as the world's foremost institution dedicated exclusively to pediatric cancer care, has a rich history of pioneering treatments and improving access to quality care for children. As a PAHO/WHO Collaborating Centre for Childhood Cancer (USA-445), it was well-equipped to contribute to the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer (GICC), launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2018. 

The support provided by St. Jude to PAHO has been instrumental in implementing the GICC throughout the Americas, with a particular focus on Latin America and the Caribbean. One of the primary objectives of this effort is to assist national authorities and pediatric organizations in crafting National Childhood Cancer Plans within the GICC framework. The goal: to achieve a minimum 60% survival rate for the six most common childhood cancer types by 2030. 

This collaborative effort encompasses a multifaceted approach, including: 

  • Improving Hospital Services: The partnership aims to enhance the capacity and quality of care provided to children with cancer across the Region. By sharing best practices and innovative treatment approaches, they seek to raise the standard of care. 

  • Knowledge Exchange: The exchange of knowledge among experts in pediatric oncology is crucial to fostering innovation and improving outcomes. St. Jude's extensive technical resources and global network are invaluable assets in this regard. 

  • Treatment Regimens and Monitoring Tools: Developing standardized treatment regimens and monitoring tools is pivotal to ensuring consistent and effective care for pediatric cancer patients. 

With a mission as ambitious as saving the lives of countless children in Latin America and the Caribbean, St. Jude and PAHO are not alone in their efforts. Here are some key developments across the region: 

Central America, Dominican Republic, and Haiti Unite Against Pediatric Cancer 

In a groundbreaking initiative, Central American countries, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti are developing a comprehensive strategy to prevent and control pediatric cancer. Based on WHO guidelines and regional plans, this strategy includes coordinated actions across sectors, with a focus on strengthening national cancer control programs, legislative support, and public awareness campaigns. The plan sets short, medium, and long-term goals, with the aim of reducing pediatric cancer mortality. 

Progress in Peru's Fight Against Pediatric Cancer 

Peru, designated as the first index country for the Americas by the WHO, has made significant strides in enhancing its pediatric cancer care. The country's journey began in 2016 when experts recognized the urgent need for improved care. Since then, they have been working closely with international organizations like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and PAHO to create a national plan and enact the Childhood Cancer Law. This law, enacted in 2020, is a milestone recognizing pediatric cancer as a public health priority in Peru and aims to save hundreds of lives annually.  

Prioritizing Childhood Cancer Care in Colombia 

Colombia, recognizing childhood cancer as a significant cause of mortality among children and adolescents, initiated a workshop in 2022 to develop an action plan. This plan seeks to improve comprehensive care for pediatric cancer patients and reduce mortality rates. By addressing key areas such as access to quality care and essential services, Colombia is striving to save young lives.  

Caribbean Subregional Meeting: Progress and Priorities 

The Caribbean is not immune to the challenges of childhood cancer, but the region is committed to improving pediatric cancer care. PAHO, along with partners like St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative, organized the Caribbean Subregional Meeting in 2021. The meeting facilitated discussions on the current state of pediatric cancer care, reviewing progress and commitments made in 2020. Importantly, it identified priorities for the coming years, focusing on national plans, treatment protocols, access to medicines, workforce development, and registries.  

Modules on Pediatric Palliative Care: A Compassionate Approach 

Palliative care plays a crucial role in improving the well-being of pediatric cancer patients and their families. To support caregivers and healthcare professionals, PAHO offers modules on pediatric palliative care. These modules provide essential information to help provide the best care and meet the needs of those affected by childhood cancer. 

Early Detection: A Lifesaving Step 

Early diagnosis is a critical factor in improving survival rates for pediatric cancer patients. The Pan American Health Organization, St. Jude Together, and Childhood Cancer International are launching a campaign in the Caribbean to raise awareness about early detection. The campaign aims to educate caregivers, families, and healthcare providers about recognizing symptoms and signs of childhood cancer, ultimately reducing diagnosis and treatment delays.  

St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has truly become a beacon of hope in the quest to improve pediatric cancer care across Latin America and the Caribbean. Their partnership with PAHO and collaborations with Member States throughout the Region demonstrate a shared commitment to ensuring that no child's life is cut short by this devastating disease. As they continue this journey to provide hope and healing to children and families affected by cancer, we can only anticipate more remarkable progress in the years to come. 

To access the articles from the special issue of the Pan American Journal of Public Health devoted to Childhood Cancer, click here.