Highly successful SickKids-Caribbean initiative to continue

Highly successful SickKids-Caribbean initiative to continue

September 5, 2018

Sometimes numbers don’t tell the whole story.

In this case, they absolutely do.

Since the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative (SCI) was launched five years ago, over Can$ 9.2 million has been raised, 300 case consultations have been facilitated, approximately 200 diagnostic tests were performed, 528 patients are registered in local oncology databases, 27 Caribbean nurses have been trained in paediatric oncology through a program to further educate and train nurses in specialized areas of treatment for cancer and blood disorders, nearly 60,000 newborn sickle cell disease screening tests have been conducted for children in Jamaica and St. Lucia and 179 specialized diagnostic tests were completed for patients newly diagnosed with leukemia. 

In addition, SickKids-trained fellows Dr. Michelle Reece-Mills and Dr. Sharon McLean-Salmon are back in Jamaica as the country’s only fully trained physicians specializing in children’s cancer and blood disorders, a data manager in each partner country was hired to capture demographic, treatment and outcome data which will help to improve the clinical management of paediatric patients and inform the design of future interventions, and seven telemedicine rooms were established to enable medical professionals in the Caribbean to connect with SickKids oncologists and haematologists and other global medical institutions to collaborate on clinical consultations and facilitate training and education to support the early identification and treatment of children in the Caribbean.

Such was the overwhelming success of the first phase that ended last April that SickKids recently launched Phase II of the groundbreaking initiative with SickKids Foundation pledging to raise an additional $5 million in the next three years to ensure sustainability.

“Our hope is that the second phase isn’t the end,” said Bahamian Dr. Corrine Sin Quee-Brown who is the SCI co-lead physician representative. “Because it was properly funded, we didn’t experience any fear that it would be shut down. Just in case there are no other phases, what we have in place will remain sustainable even without SickKids.”

It’s estimated that a Canadian child with cancer has close to a 90 per cent chance of surviving the disease while the survival rate for a Caribbean youth is about 50 per cent.

The inequality of outcomes along with results from a needs assessment survey identifying huge gaps in care in the Caribbean prompted SickKids Foundation to launch the SCI to help build health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care.

Sin Quee-Brown said other Caribbean countries have benefitted from the project.

“We collectively looked at this as an initiative for the region,” she pointed out. “We didn’t forget the smaller countries with fewer resources.”

The SCI is a capacity-building program at the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health (GCH)  that supports the global agenda for newborn, child and adolescent health  through collaborative research grounded in scholarship, sustainable capacity building through education, the use of evidence to inform policy development and advocacy for improved health for children and families.

Dr. Stanley Zlotkin is the inaugural GCH head.

“It is really important to note that all of our capacity-building programs have four features in common,” he said. “They all have very strong partnerships, they have a focus on sustainability, they have a very rigorous evaluation component and they have philanthropic support from generous donors.”

Capacity building, said Zlotkin, requires a strong collaboration.

“This partnership with our colleagues from the Caribbean wasn’t easy at the beginning,” he added. “I would like to think that a strong partnership is like a strong marriage. It involves trust, open communication and there’s often a long courtship before the marriage takes place. We spent the first year getting to know and trust each other. At this particular time, the marriage is well consummated.”

Dr. Victor Blanchette and Dr. Upton Allen are the project co-chairs.

When husband and wife Allan Magee and Melanie McCaig’s son – John Magee -- was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2001, Blanchette provided the family with a greater understanding of the disease and treatment options. 

Allan Magee and Melanie McCaig with their son John Magee

Allan Magee and Melanie McCaig with their son John Magee

Impressed with his compassion and professionalism and satisfied with the care the hospital offered their son who is now cancer free, they initially funded a feasibility study which was used to identify where the gaps were in cancer care in the Caribbean.

Magee and McCaig jointly contributed $1 million to the SCI and Blanchette was appointed the McCaig Magee medical director for the project to recognize the donation.

Dr. Victor Blanchette

Dr. Victor Blanchette

“This project has a very solid foundation like a house,” said Barbadian-born Blanchette who thanked the University of the West Indies, Caribbean governments and diplomatic missions and donors for their support. “The next phase is about capacity building and transition.”

Three-time Olympic medallist Andre DeGrasse committed to the second phase with a $25,000 contribution.

His mother, Beverley DeGrasse who migrated from Trinidad & Tobago nearly three decades ago, attended the Phase II launch.

“When I left T & T, it was still very much a developing country,” she noted. “So I now have a real appreciation of places like SickKids. Raising a child in a new country has its challenges, but it’s nice to have access to some of the best health care facilities in the world. I am proud of what Andre has accomplished in the last few years, including his decision to go back to university and get his degree. But what I am most proud of is that he’s using his fame, influence and resources to help others.”

Dr. Upton Allen & Beverley DeGrasse

Dr. Upton Allen & Beverley DeGrasse

Last May, the 23-year-old sprinter launched his family foundation to empower and inspire young people through sport and education.

“Andre has a good heart and he’s someone who loves to help others,” added his mom. “Earlier this year, I met with SickKids Foundation and when I suggested to him that the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative is something we should support, he agreed without hesitation.”

Next year, Barbadian Dr. Chantelle Browne-Farmer will join Reece-Mills and McLean-Salmon as the third Caribbean medical practitioner to be trained at SickKids under the initiative.

Trinidadian Dr. Kevon Dindial started his two-year training at SickKids on July 1.

“I love kids and helping people,” he said. “When I return home, I will be the only paediatric haematologist in the twin-island. There is a dire need back home in this field. This is a once-in-lifetime opportunity and I intend to make the most of it.”

Dr. Kevon Dindial

Dr. Kevon Dindial

Graduating with a medical degree in 2010 from the University of the West Indies, Dindial was assigned to the Eric Williams Medical Centre for eight years.

This is his first time in Canada.

“I love it so far here,” Dindial added. “This is a very multicultural country and the people are very warm. That makes the transition so much easier.”

Phase II of the SCI begins in the midst of SickKids VS Limits campaign aimed at raising $1.3 billion – the largest in Canadian health care history -- to build a new hospital.

The funds will be used to set up a new patient care centre on University Ave., support breakthrough paediatric health research and establish partnerships for better co-ordinated patient care.

The campaign is expected to end on March 31, 2022.

When SickKids was built at 555 University Ave., it was the largest children’s hospital in the world. The hospital expanded in 1993 with the opening of the Atrium building at 170 Elizabeth St.







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