Special Issue

Paediatric oncology in the Eastern Mediterranean region (EMR): the current state and challenges

28 Feb 2024
Arsalan Kabir Siddiqui, Asim Fakhruddin Belgaumi

The WHO Eastern Mediterranean region (EMR) is characterised by highly economically diverse countries, with healthcare systems in various phases of development. Childhood cancer care provision also ranges from that provided in centres able to deliver sophisticated therapy resulting in outcomes comparable to those seen in highly developed nations, to countries with no provision for care of children with cancer. At 10·1 per 100,000 children at risk, the age standardised incidence-rate for cancer in children below 14 years of age is relatively low but may be consequent to poor registration. Shortages in trained care providers were identified in many regional countries, particularly in low and lower-middle income countries, however, implementation of training programs are beginning to counter this deficit. Significant diversity in patient care capacity exists in the region, leading to inequitable access to quality paediatric oncology care. There is strong potential for regional collaboration towards infrastructure and capacity improvement, with facilities available within the EMR for twinning and educational support to those centres and countries that need them. While cancer care coverage is available to citizens of high-income countries, in the lower-income countries out-of-pocket health expenditure can reach 75%. Some relief is achieved through the contribution of multiple charitable foundations working to support childhood cancer care in the region, as well as the provision of care in, often overburdened, public sector hospitals. War and other geo-political turmoil, as well as natural disasters, have negatively impacted healthcare capacity, including childhood cancer care, in several regional countries. Despite all this, the trajectory for change is upward and initiatives such as the WHO Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer are igniting positive change.

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