GENEVA - Treatment remains out of reach for hundreds of thousands of children diagnosed with cancer in low and middle-income countries, severely limiting their chances of survival, the UN health agency said on Wednesday.

Only a quarter of low-income countries cover childhood cancer medicines in through public benefits, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) said at his weekly press briefing in Geneva.

“This subjects children and families to significant suffering and financial hardship, or puts them at risk of receiving substandard and falsified medicines. As a result, survival of children in these countries is less than 30 percent, compared with more than 90 percent for children in high income countries.”

To help address the problem, WHO, supported by the US-based St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a non-profit pediatric treatment and research facility focusing on leukemia and other cancers, launched the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer in 2018.

The initiative aims for at least a 60 percent survival rate in low and middle-income countries by 2030, focusing on six cancers that are highly curable which represent more than half of all those found on children.

He added that in December 2021, the UN agency and St. Jude initiated a global programme to improve access to childhood cancer medicines.

The WHO also announced that cancer medicines are among those that have been added to the latest version of the WHO Essential Medicines List and the Essential Medicines List for Children.

“The new lists also include important new medicines for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, infectious diseases and cardiovascular conditions, among others. These treatments could have a very large public health impact globally, without jeopardizing the health budgets of low and middle-income countries,” Tedros said.