Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers has had a profound effect on the lives of children in Houston and throughout the country through its exceptional patient care and cutting-edge research. The Center, a joint program of Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital, also is extending its reach far beyond our borders. Initiatives in Africa are providing treatment and education and training programs to areas that have lacked access to quality care. Recent efforts have built up the Center’s global impact, including programs in Botswana, Angola and Malawi.
On June 9, BIPAI, the AbbVie Foundation and the Malawi Ministry of Health reopened two renovated pediatric wards and dedicated a new pediatric hematology/oncology unit at Mamuzu Central Hospital. In addition to AbbVie, the Chevron Corp. also supports the Malawi efforts, funding its only pediatric oncologist, Dr. Peter Wasswa of Baylor and Texas Children’s Cancer Center.
“We are so honored to celebrate this milestone for Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital,” said Melissa Walsh, vice president of the AbbVie Foundation. “The Malawi program has transformed the lives of thousands of children and their families living with HIV/AIDS and we are so proud to support the expansion of that work into the pediatric cancer space.”
On June 13, the Botswana-Baylor Children’s Center of Excellence and the government of Botswana signed a memorandum of agreement to build the first children’s hematology and cancer center of excellence in Gaborone, Botswana.
“Approximately 40,000 children a year are diagnosed with cancer in sub-Saharan Africa, and 20 percent of those children survive, compared with 80 percent in the U.S.,” said Dr. David Poplack, director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers and professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine. “This center of excellence, in partnership with the Botswana Ministry of Health, will change those numbers in favor of the children of Botswana.”
When pediatric oncologists from Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers began working at Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone about 10 years ago, it was the first pediatric oncology program on the continent. The new agreement expands that commitment to include the first stand-alone cancer center of excellence devoted exclusively to treatment of children with cancer and blood diseases.
The partnership responsible for the development and management of the children’s cancer center in Gaborone includes the Botswana Ministry of Health, the Baylor College of Medicine Pediatric AIDS Initiative and Texas Children’s Hospital.
“This provides further evidence of our continued commitment to the children of Botswana,” said Mike Mizwa, chief operating officer of BIPAI and director of Texas Children’s Global Health. “We look forward to another decade of expanding our programs to meet the needs of sick children, including care and treatment, professional education for physicians and other healthcare professionals and groundbreaking research.”
The Botswana-Baylor Children’s Clinical Center of Excellence is the product of a partnership between the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone and the government of Botswana. Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers is a joint program of Baylor and Texas Children’s Hospital and is the pediatric program of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.
The Angola Sickle Cell Initiative, a public-private partnership of the Angola Ministry of Health, the Baylor College of Medicine International Pediatric AIDS Initiative, Texas Children’s Hospital and Chevron, is teaming up with the global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb to provide children with sickle cell disease in Angola with an effective medication to which many patients in the country have lacked access.
Sickle cell disease is an inherited disorder in which red blood cells become irregularly shaped. These sickle-shaped cells can get stuck in small blood vessels, which can slow or block blood flow and oxygen to parts of the body, resulting in painful episodes, serious infections, chronic anemia, damage to body organs and stroke, among other complications.
The program will provide thousands of Angolan children regular access to Droxia (hydroxyurea), which reduces the frequency of painful crises and the need for blood transfusions in patients with sickle cell disease. This new five-year demonstration program is intended to build understanding of the effectiveness of treating children in resource-limited settings and to establish the cost benefits to the healthcare systems.
“World Sickle Cell Day was June 19, so this is a momentous time to announce this new partnership to provide potentially life-altering medication to thousands of children in Angola, one of Africa’s countries hardest hit by sickle cell disease,” said Poplack. . “Hydroxyurea is known to lessen the devastating complications of sickle cell disease.”
Angola has one of the world’s highest rates of the genetic blood condition with up to 10,000 babies born with the disease each year. By some estimates, up to 50 percent of these children die before five years of age. However, most patients in the country have not had access to hydroxyurea.
Bristol-Myers Squibb will provide Droxia for up to 1,200 children during the first two years of the program, increasing this to up to 4,100 after that pilot period. The program will launch in Luanda and Cabinda and later expand to additional sites.
“We are proud to partner with the Angola Sickle Cell Initiative to help bring much needed treatment to infants born with this painful and deadly disease,” said John Damonti, vice president of corporate philanthropy at Bristol-Myers Squibb and president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “As important as providing treatment to the 4,100 children is that at the end of this five-year demonstration project, we should have ample data needed for governments and funders to consider providing the resources necessary to support large-scale treatment programs.”
The Angola Sickle Cell Initiative will provide medical care and management of the drug to children in the treatment program. The Angolan Ministry of Health has committed to the continued treatment of all the children on hydroxyurea when they reach 10 years old. The emergency response and global health organization AmeriCares also is a key partner, shipping the drug from Bristol-Myers Squibb to Angola.
The Angola Sickle Cell Initiative has been in place in Angola since 2011. Before its launch, newborns were not screened for the disease. Since 2011, more than 150,000 babies have been screened and more than 1,700 babies and children are now in care and treatment. It is led by Dr. Gladstone Airewele, associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor and head of the Global Hematology Program at Texas Children’s Hospital.