Doctors treating children with cancer in Barbados and other Caribbean countries will now benefit from continuing education and expertise from overseas medical specialists, following the opening of the Shaw Family Telemedicine Room today, at the University of the West Indies??? (UWI) Clinical Skills Building, Jemmotts Lane, St. Michael.

The facility will house the SickKids-Caribbean Initiative, launched in Toronto, Canada, earlier this year, which works with stakeholders across the English-speaking Caribbean to improve the outcomes and quality of life for children with cancer and blood disorders, as well as their families.

It is a collaborative effort between the UWI, SickKids ??? The Hospital for Sick Children in Canada, and the Centre for Global Child Health.

Minister of Health, John Boyce, told those in attendance that the opening of the Telemedicine Room integrated two important areas: the delivery of clinical care to persons who would otherwise require transfer overseas for consultation and the strengthening of Barbados??? programmmes to improve the outcomes for children living with cancer and other disorders.

???The health profile of children in the English-speaking Caribbean reflects a picture of overall good health. This is supported by the child health programmes which support the healthy growth and development of children under five years of age and aim to protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases through immunisation???. Unfortunately, there are some medical conditions to which children and adolescents may be susceptible which cannot be prevented, treated or cured by vaccines or other low cost interventions.

???These may result from genetic predisposition and autoimmune response, environmental factors and in many cases, unknown causes. Amongst such diseases are diabetes, respiratory illnesses??? mental and physical disabilities, lupus, sickle cell disease and cancer,??? the Health Minister outlined.

He further added that there was an average of eight to 10 childhood cancer cases per year in Barbados, pointing out that this rate had remained stable over the last five years.

???The average survival rate is 75 per cent and this represents the cases that are cured,??? Mr. Boyce stated.

He said that each case of childhood cancer was ???a very personal tragedy that can strike any family with children at anytime and anywhere???.

Mr. Boyce acknowledged that due to the specialised nature of childhood cancer, Caribbean countries were limited in the care that they offered.

???Our shortcomings include limited paediatric pathological expertise to assist in diagnosis, staging and treatment modules; availability of specific drugs which may be imported to treat particular cancers which require interventions; and the lack of a targeted linear accelerator which will reduce the side effects of radiation therapy. The establishment of the Shaw Family Telemedicine Room, therefore, addresses some of our limitations.

???This facility offers connectivity with overseas medical specialists that will assist doctors resident here in Barbados with continuing education and offer support to parents and doctors managing sick children. Family and medical staff will have access to a team of medical experts in the diagnosis and treatment options that are available,??? he explained, adding that hospice and rehabilitative services were envisioned for the future.

The Health Minister said Barbados could not achieve its national objective of full economic empowerment of each of its citizens unless everyone enjoyed good physical, mental and social health.

??????There can be no true development unless our children???are kept as disease free as possible,??? he emphasised.

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