WE C Hope at the SIOP World Congress 2016, Dublin.

Wednesday November 23, 2016 | Abby White, WE C Hope CEO

WE C Hope co-founder, Abby White, reflects on the world’s most important annual childhood cancer conference.

Challenging the Slow Motion Catastrophe

United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, has described the epidemic of Non-Communicable Diseases as a “slow motion catastrophe”.  Cancer alone kills more people in low-income countries than AIDS, TB, and malaria combined.  Cancer care for children is appallingly inadequate in much of the world.

The UN urges all organizations and health systems to deliver awareness, stigma-busting and early detection programs, medical training, and better access to existing treatments and off-patent drugs.  They challenge the global media to stress the urgent need to address this situation.

The International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP) is a shining example of what the UN seeks to achieve through existing initiatives. SIOP’s aim is to improve and optimize care throughout the world, and ultimately achieve its vision: that no child should die of cancer.

Dublin Convention Centre

Dublin Convention Centre hosted the SIOP 2016 World Congress

A Unique Collaborative Approach

This global childhood cancer organization is unique in its approach to education and health care development.  By combining the annual congresses of organisations focused on different but linked aspects of care, SIOP promotes a holistic response.  The scientific program embraces almost every element of childhood cancer, from basic science and early diagnosis through treatment, supportive care for the child and family, follow up care, survivorship and back to the science of prevention.

All delegates have open access to sessions led by SIOP’S Paediatric Oncology in Developing Countries group (PODC), Paediatric Psycho-Oncology (PPO), Childhood Cancer International (CCI), International Society Paediatric Surgical Oncology (IPSO) and the International Society of Paediatric Oncology Nurses.  The program includes keynote lectures and plenary sessions, free papers, panel sessions and discussion forums.

The scientific committee identifies most presenters by reviewing abstracts submitted to them from physicians, researchers and leaders in childhood cancer advocacy.  On acceptance, presenters are told whether they have an oral presentation slot or a poster presentation.  Some speakers are invited.

Posters have traditionally been in physical form, but this year, they were all electronic for the first time, saving space and the environment.  As I discovered, the conference organizers have some way to go to ensure electronic innovations (I add the conference app here too) are accessible to delegates with low/no vision, but these are great possibilities for development.

Welcome sign at the entrance to the SIOP 2016 World Congress.

SIOP welcomes delegates to Dublin for the 48th annual World Congress.

Michael Capra, Chair LOC Dublin, and Francois Doz, Chair of the Scientific Committee, organised a comprehensive, holistic congress.  More than 2,500 delegates attended from nearly every country in the world, including 600 nurses and 200 parent and survivor advocates.

Joint sessions throughout the congress combine energy and focus to address specific issues and challenges.  For example, every year, Childhood Cancer International, an international network of more than 180 parent-led organisations in 90+ countries, share multiple sessions with the Paediatric Oncology in Developing Countries group, to address specific needs of children with cancer and their families in low and middle income countries.

Ireland’s Inspiring Congress

The quality and diversity of the program ensured that every session stimulated us individually and as a community.  World leaders in clinical, nursing and supportive care, emerging research scientists and tireless advocates shared the podium with parents who have loved and lost and overcome, and survivors who continue to overcome every day.  We were truly united in creating a world free from childhood cancer.

As he welcomed us to Dublin, Michael Capra noted that the challenges ahead of us are significant, particularly the unsustainable rising cost of treatment and the disparity of care access and survival between developed and developing countries.  The congress program reflected the fervent activity taking place worldwide to overcome them, and to create a brighter, happier, healthier future for all affected children, survivors and their families.

Particularly encouraging are the international collaborations advancing research, treatment and health advocacy, and cultivating childhood cancer programs in developing countries.  They show us how far we have come, remind us of how much we have yet to do, and highlight the wonderful opportunities ahead of us to reach our goal.

WE C Hope in the Global Village

On the final morning of the congress, I had the honour of presenting at SIOP for the first time as an invited speaker.  I shared the genesis of World Eye Cancer Hope, our work in Kenya and development of One Retinoblastoma World.  I spoke during the Global Stakeholder Village, a joint session between Childhood Cancer International and SIOP’s Paediatric Oncology in Developing Countries (PODC) group.  Through one intensive morning, we explored an array of international collaborations that are advancing care for children, survivors and families around the world.  We shared knowledge, experience, tools, resources, ideas and encouragement, made new connections and fuelled the collective engine of hope.

In his farewell address to the congress, Prof. Giorgio Perilongo, retiring President of SIOP, challenged our community to think of ourselves not as individuals filling a shared space, but as one body together, through which the voices of all children and their families can be clearly heard in our global village. We have a shared responsibility to influence the health agenda in favour of our children.  He recognized the inevitable difficulty and frustration encountered on such an epic journey, but added that if those who represent children with cancer don’t do it, no one will.  He concluded that our voices and actions together blend into one powerful harmonious chord, that has the power to be heard in every corner of the world.

Simon Harris, Minister of Health, officially opened the 48th World Congress. In so doing, he reflected on the major global collaborations that have succeeded – putting a man on the moon, overcoming economic meltdown, bringing peace to certain parts of the world.  He asked why we can’t globally, collectively say that no child should die of cancer, and work together towards that goal.

Meet & Greet in the Long Room at Trinity College Library, Dublin – a chance for parents and survivors attending SIOP to mingle, reconnect and build new relationships.

During the closing ceremony, Eric Buffet, incoming President of SIOP answered Dr. Harris: “We are global, and together, we can”.

A speaker shows a slide bearing a photo of several children, and the caption "we need you to get involved"

We are all part of the Childhood Cancer Global Village.  Together we can conquer retinoblastoma.  Please get involved wherever you can to help us achieve the vision of life and sight for every child.

Read the next post in our series, reflecting on the Retinoblastoma Session at SIOP.  The program was hosted in memory of Alfred G. Knudson, Jr., MD, PhD., who died in July.  His “two-hit hypothesis” now forms the backbone of retinoblastoma genetics and has hugely improved care for children, survivors and families.


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