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Care for children with cancer in Kenya greatly improved thanks to knowledge sharing

The World Child Cancer NL Foundation and founding partner AFAS Foundation have extended their collaboration, allowing the Princess Máxima Center to continue to realize future-proof pediatric oncology care in Western Kenya. The Outreach program, in which knowledge is shared with healthcare professionals in Kenya, among other countries, was started in 2018. Through the collaboration, the Máxima supports care in Kenya and can carry out leading research with an international impact, that all children with cancer benefit from.

In the poorest countries in the world, the chance of a cure for childhood cancer is less than 10%, compared to 75% in countries such as the Netherlands. One of the reasons for the low cure rate is the lack of knowledge among local doctors and nurses. For this reason, the Princess Máxima Center started the Outreach program in 2018 to combat childhood cancer in Kenya. The Máxima also has similar programs in Malawi, Indonesia and Kosovo. In the first three years of the program, some 950 healthcare professionals were trained in these four countries, from general practitioners to researchers and social workers.

Gertjan Kaspers, director of the Outreach program at the Princess Máxima Center: 'Thanks to our sharing of knowledge, partner hospitals are increasingly able to direct the care and research for their children with cancer. In short: hospitals are becoming more self-sufficient, an important step for structural change to ultimately increase the chance of survival.'

The collaboration is also in the interest of scientific research into childhood cancer. This gives the Máxima more data and research material, such as tumor tissue. Doctors and nurses also learn more about the effect of medicines on children from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

Better chance of survival through knowledge sharing

Sharing knowledge with healthcare professionals is an important factor in improving care for children with cancer, which ultimately improves survival. In addition, proper registration of children with cancer, the drawing up and implementation of treatment protocols and information for parents are of great importance.

Since 2010, the survival of children with cancer in Kenya has increased from less than 10% to more than 30%, depending on the type of cancer. The Princess Máxima Center has been working with the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital in Eldoret, Western Kenya since 2006, and according to Kaspers, the improved survival can be partly attributed to the Princess Máxima Center's Outreach program.

Gerben Eversdijk, director of AFAS Foundation: 'Thanks to the Outreach program, hundreds of children with cancer and their families have regained perspective. A future not only through cure, but also with more quality of life, through less residual damage from treatment and disease. Research projects have led to better care and treatment with better outcomes. That's what we do it for. We are proud that we as the AFAS Foundation can contribute to this.'

Bringing experience to the Netherlands

In addition to sharing knowledge, the Princess Máxima Center works on joint research with the partner hospitals. For example, epidemiological research is being conducted in Malawi to better map the distribution and outcomes of childhood cancer, a prerequisite for understanding progress.

Thanks to the collaboration with partner hospitals, research can also be done with patient data and tumor tissue from children with an African ethnic background. They are strongly underrepresented in a lot of research into childhood cancer. Kaspers: 'Together with our partner hospitals, we can conduct leading research with an international impact. For example, we learn more about the effect of medicines such as vincristine in children with a different ethnic background, which can benefit children in the Netherlands and worldwide.'

Expansion of mission: more focus for more impact

The Outreach program has given the Princess Máxima Center more insight into how to achieve even greater effect in the coming years. It has therefore been decided to focus on Western Kenya for the next five years, together with the AFAS Foundation. In addition, efforts are being made not only to optimize the treatment of the children in the hospital itself, but also to increase awareness and early referral. Kaspers: 'Besides the care in hospitals, there are many other ways to improve the recovery rate of children with cancer. We aim to focus more on these aspects in the coming years. This includes the prevention of premature discontinuation of treatment, proper information for parents and the timely arranging of practical matters such as health insurance and the travel distances to the hospital. We also aim to optimize the aftercare and social reintegration for children who have successfully completed their treatment.'

If this approach proves successful, the model will be applied to all of Kenya and then to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere. In the meantime, the Princess Máxima Center with the AFAS Foundation and World Child Cancer NL also continues the existing collaboration with hospitals in Malawi, Indonesia and Kosovo.

The extension of this collaboration is an important aspect in achieving World Child Cancer's mission of reaching 40,000 children with cancer and educating 10,000 healthcare professionals within three years.