Texas Children’s Hospital began partnering with Bristol-Myers Squibb in several developing countries in the early 2000s. These pioneers aimed to change the lives of children affected by the ravages of HIV/AIDS.
Great successes followed, and this public-private partnership became a model for other groups to bring desperately needed health care to underserved populations around the world. Recently, Texas Children’s, Baylor College of Medicine, Bristol-Myers Squibb and the government of Botswana once again came together to conquer another devastating childhood disease — cancer.
In Africa, more than 100,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year, and 60 to 80 percent will die because they have little access to diagnostic and treatment services. This is a stark contrast to high-income countries, where 80 percent of pediatric cancer patients will survive.
Bringing hope to all childhood illnesses
In the early 2000s, as HIV/AIDS ravaged the lives of children across Africa, a small Texas Children’s Hospital program stepped in to help.
Known as the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) at Texas Children’s Hospital, the program built the first stand-alone pediatric HIV clinic on the continent through a public-private partnership with the government of Botswana and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
A few short years later, this program operates more than a dozen clinics serving nearly 300,000 patients with a variety of health conditions. While HIV/AIDS remains a significant focus, Texas Children’s is also providing maternity care and treatment for other childhood illnesses including tuberculosis, malaria, malnutrition — and now, cancer.
Heartbreaking reality to change
In February 2017, in Gaborone, Botswana, Texas Children’s and Baylor College of Medicine broke ground on the first of a network of pediatric cancer facilities in southern and east Africa. The initiative, known as Global HOPE (Hematology-Oncology Pediatric Excellence), will also treat serious non-cancerous blood disorders such as sickle cell disease, severe anemia and hemophilia.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation made a gift of $50 million over five years, which turned the $100 million project from an idea into reality. The Bristol-Myers Squibb funds will be used to train health care providers and to provide support for clinical infrastructure and operations. BIPAI will raise an additional $50 million for the program.
“If there is a silver lining to come out of the AIDS pandemic, it’s that we learned a tremendous amount about delivering care to sick children in Africa,” said Texas Children’s Physician-in-Chief and BIPAI founder Dr. Mark W. Kline. “Now, we can apply that knowledge to cancer and other life-threatening conditions that have been ignored.”
Texas Children’s has provided limited cancer care in Africa for about 10 years as an offshoot of the HIV/AIDS project because certain cancers are common in HIV-positive children. The Bristol-Myers Squibb funds will be used to train health care providers and to provide support for clinical infrastructure and operations.
“This commitment will help support the training network and the construction, equipping and operation of two regional pediatric hematology-oncology clinical sites in Botswana and Uganda, along with an additional national program in Malawi,” said Dr. Giovanni Caforio, chairman of the board of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and chief executive officer of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. “This initiative builds on 18 years of success of the Foundation’s SECURE THE FUTURE program and will offer new hope to families impacted by pediatric blood disorders and cancer.”
The Global HOPE initiative will train about 4,800 health care professionals from Botswana, Uganda, Malawi and other African countries, including doctors and nurses specializing in pediatric hematology-oncology and social workers. They, in turn, will train other health care professionals. An estimated 5,000 children will receive care in the first five years, most of whom would not have been able to access care before.
“With only five pediatric oncologists currently working in Botswana, Malawi and Uganda combined, there are simply not enough expert doctors to treat all the children who have blood disorders and cancer,” said Dr. David G. Poplack, director of Texas Children’s Cancer and Hematology Centers. “Our goal is and must continue to be that no child — anywhere in the world — should die from cancer. But at a minimum, all children should have the same fighting chance. Global HOPE will help build capacity in the region to diagnose and care for children with blood disorders and cancer, offering the potential for transformational change in survivorship for these children.”
“Bristol-Myers Squibb has partnered with Texas Children’s for nearly two decades, and we are proud of what we have accomplished,” said Jon Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and vice president of Corporate Philanthropy at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. “Working together through Global HOPE, we continue our commitment to increase access to health care in underserved communities across the world.”