From Massachusetts to Myanmar, Making Cancer Care a Global Effort

Each February 4, people everywhere are encouraged to take steps toward improving cancer awareness, prevention, and care on World Cancer Day. But for Dana-Farber staff working with colleagues in dozens of under-resourced countries, every day provides opportunities to help cancer patients worldwide.

The Global Health Initiative at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center has formed programs with 25 partner institutions in 18 countries aimed at helping pediatric cancer and blood disorders patients and their families.

Another Dana-Farber effort – the Center for Global Cancer Medicine (CGCM) – helps adult cancer patients as well as children. The CGCM operates with the nonprofit Partners In Health to assist countries with cancer care, research, and education, including ongoing programs in Rwanda and Haiti.

“We have made the commitment at Dana-Farber to travel far beyond our walls and reach everyone we can,” says Irini Albanti, MA, MPH, manager of the Global Health Initiative. “From delivering projects in clinical, nursing, and psychosocial care to providing research, training, and technical advice, we are focused on sharing our knowledge and experiences.”

In honor of World Cancer Day, here is a look at some of Dana-Farber’s global oncology outreach:

Global health
Cancer patients and their healthcare teams worldwide have benefited from Dana-Farber’s global outreach efforts, which in many cases offer them a new lease on life.

Global health, Myanmar

In addition to advancing care for patients abroad, Dana-Farber staff train doctors, nurses, and other caregivers in the delivery of cancer care. Here, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center nurse Lisa Morrissey, MPH, MSN, RN, instructs nurses at Yangon Children’s Hospital in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar.

Rwanda, global health

As the first director of the Center for Global Cancer Medicine, Lawrence Shulman, MD (at far left, with young friends in Rwanda), was the face of Dana-Farber’s early outreach efforts. He led development of the Butaro Cancer Center of Excellence in Rwanda, which upon opening in 2012 provided the only widely available cancer care in this Central Africa country of 11.5 million.

Today, thanks to Shulman’s initial efforts in Rwanda and Haiti, caregivers from Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s and Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center routinely make three- and six-month teaching trips to these countries and train local workers to operate dedicated oncology facilities.

Global health, nursing, Haiti
Representatives from Dana-Farber’s CGCM, in conjunction with Partners in Health, are integrally involved in all aspects of cancer care at the University Hospital of Mirebalais, – including teaching Haitian colleagues how to deliver it safely on limited resources.

Global health, Egypt

Through the Global Oncology Fellowship Program, physicians from North Africa and the Middle East can gain training in neuro-oncology, stem cell transplantation, and other specialties from Dana-Farber colleagues – both in Egypt and in Boston.

Similarly, nurses from these regions – including this group posing with their Dana-Farber colleagues in Cairo – gain cancer-specific knowledge from trips to the U.S. as well as our nurses’ visits there.

Global health, Guatemala, childhood cancer

A vital resource in fighting cancer is developing cancer registries, which allow health policy makers to assess and address inequalities in prevention, access, and care – such as ethnicity, occupation, and socioeconomic status — within and between countries. Registries also serve as the basis for epidemiological studies.

In Guatemala, where this child received treatment, Dana-Farber is helping develop a national pediatric cancer registry that will expand to cover the entire Guatemalan pediatric population.

Rwanda, Global Health, nursing
Dana-Farber clinicians including nurse practitioner Barbara Virchick, MS, APRN-BC (right), often get to do their teaching at home. In addition to Rwandan and Haitian caregivers, visiting physicians from Peru, China, Jordan, Tanzania, and other countries come to the United States for up to two months of specialized oncology training with their Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s hosts through the Pediatric Global Oncology and Blood Disorders Education (GLOBE) Program.

By serving as mentors both abroad and in Boston, Dana-Farber staff gain special bonds with their international colleagues. Virchick played host to Rwandan nurse Jean Bosco Brigirimmana, RN (right), who observed patient care, chemotherapy infusions, and bone marrow and stem cell transplants at Dana-Farber and its care partners Children’s Hospital Boston and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.