MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — St. Jude Children's Research Hospital has helped with the treatment of thousands of cancer-stricken children around the world. Striving to reach so many more, the Memphis, Tennessee-based hospital announced a $100 million plan Thursday to expand its global outreach.
President and CEO James R. Downing told doctors and media that the St. Jude Global program's goal is ambitious — to influence the care of as much as 30 percent of children with cancer worldwide in the next decade. He said he hopes the investment will improve access and quality of medical care for many children who might otherwise die.
More than 80 percent of children with cancer live in low- and middle-income countries, where they lack access to adequate diagnosis and treatment, St. Jude said. The majority of those children will die, said Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, director of St. Jude Global.
In developed nations, survival rates for pediatric cancers exceed 80 percent.
"We must address this gap," Downing said.
Founded by actor Danny Thomas, St. Jude is considered a leading researcher of cancer and other life-threatening diseases that affect children. It shares its research with hospitals, doctors and health programs worldwide. Families with children being cared for at the hospital never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing and food.
St. Jude is expanding its International Outreach Program, which was founded in 1993 and presently includes 24 hospitals in 17 countries. The hospital's Department of Global Pediatric Medicine, formed in 2016, accelerated the hospital's global outreach. The department has created St. Jude Global, which aims to improve access to care and quality of treatment by focusing on education of medical workers and research.
The global program will seek to strengthen health systems that are treating children with cancer and establish standards and guidelines to improve patient care. Hospital officials plan to form what they describe as a global alliance to help transfer knowledge across regions.
"We have set a very bold goal," Rodriguez-Galindo said.
The hospital said that among several other nations, it is building relations in Russia, Myanmar, Cambodia and sub-Saharan Africa. Its research has already influenced medical care in the Philippines, where Dr. Mae Dolendo treats children with cancer in Davao City on the island of Mindanao.
Dolendo said doctors from her cancer treatment facility have communicated regularly with St. Jude experts for the past 12 years. These experts have guided Dolendo on programs in leukemia treatment and nursing infectious diseases.
Her cancer institute has increased from four beds to 50 beds with the help of St. Jude.
"Children from all over Mindanao come to us, some being carried in hammocks, some taking outrigger boats, some traveling for eight hours by bus, just to get pediatric cancer treatment," Dolendo said.
The overall survival rate was less than 10 percent in 2004, Dolendo said. It is now 50 percent.
"This is the impact of St. Jude to us," she said.