Apr 17 2022

Living Our Principles

by at 11:02 pm under Uncategorized

This special moment in the year is a confluence of the religious observances of Easter, Passover and Ramadan. It is a time for community, for friends and family, and reminds us of the core principles shared by each of these great religions. If you have or are celebrating any of these observances, I hope this has been a time of love and reflection.

We spent time with family, though we all thought twice about it since I had gone to AACR in New Orleans. From what I can gather a lot of people came back infected with COVID-19; I guess that is what happens when more than 11,000 people from around the world cram together in relatively tight quarters, even if they are fully vaccinated. Fortunately, I appear to have dodged that bullet, but it is a reminder that, while we may not die from COVID, we most certainly need to learn how to live with it more intelligently, for, most assuredly, it is not going away. I think I am going to shy away from potential superspreader events for a while.

Speaking of AACR, I had a truly troubling experience there. I was asked to moderate a press conference on Monday, and one of the three press releases came from a Libyan presenter, describing how the remarkable disparities in childhood cancer outcomes in high vs. low/middle income countries have widened during the pandemic. Prior to the pandemic the survival rate for children in high income countries was 80%, but was only 20% in low/middle income countries.

Stop. Think about this. Relatively few children worldwide get cancer. How much extra money might it cost to assure that every affected child received the care that was needed? The answer: not a lot. Why has this not been addressed previously?

As I tried to process this monstrous disparity, the presenter then showed observational data that the 30-day mortality rate has been 35 times higher in children from low/middle income countries during the pandemic. So, when the presentation ended and I turned the questioning over to the press, I mentioned, “This is really important stuff. It’s unacceptable, and something needs to be done about this.”

The first question came from someone affiliated with a very prominent journal. “So, why is this news? Didn’t we already know about this?” I fought back the urge to snarl, and noted that just because something isn’t brand new, it does not mean that the problem is not urgent and worthy of a call to action. She shrugged and sat down. There were no other questions.

I was stunned. Have we become so smug and comfortable in our privileged lives that we are indifferent to the suffering of others, even if they are children whose parents don’t look like many of us? Is this what we are about? Is this how our religions teach us to behave? The Western world watches in horror (albeit receding) as Ukrainian civilians are wantonly murdered — perhaps because the victims seem to be so much like us?

Sunflowers were planted across the street from the Russian Embassy on Saturday in solidarity with the Ukraine. It was a wonderful gesture. But, who is planting something for the kids who are doomed to die of curable cancers because of the accidents of their births? Better yet, who is actually helping? When science is not linked to the public good, the advances ring hollow to me.

The Sunday New York Times ran an article about how St. Jude has set up a field triage clinic in Poland to navigate Ukrainian pediatric cancer patients for care at appropriate facilities around the world, including in Tennessee. It is a wonderful initiative, but St. Jude should not and cannot be the only answer. Why can’t something similar be done throughout the world?

Stay safe and be well.




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