Childhood cancers  – A child health priority for MENA

Childhood cancers – A child health priority for MENA

  by Hedieh Mehrtash The current, and soon to be expired Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4), is to reduce childhood mortality in under-fives by two thirds. In the past decade, global efforts to reach this goal have focused on scaling up access to childhood vaccines, oral rehydration salts, malaria treatment and prevention, and prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Since the inception of the MDGs there has been increasing recognition of the burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) globally, not just as diseases of high-income countries. The post-2015 development agenda seeks to accommodate this shift as articulated in roadmaps such as the WHO Global Action Plan for NCDs. This blog post looks at where child health and NCDs intersect in the MENA region, with a specific focus on the burden and available treatment for childhood cancers. The unique epidemiological characteristics of childhood cancers make a strong case for studying them separately from adult cancers. The most striking difference perhaps is that cancer is generally a rare disease among children – annual incidence of all cancer in children under 5 years of age in developed countries is only 0.5% (1). Moreover, adult cancers are associated with modifiable risk factors, whereas childhood cancers are not. Consequently, population based screening and prevention programs are not the best recourse for pediatric cases, which benefit instead from accurate early diagnosis and effective treatment (10). When the data on pediatric cancer is stratified by geographic location, the highest incidence of childhood lymphomas occur in North Africa and the Middle East, while leukemia accounts for a quarter of childhood cancers in the...