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The Cure2Children Foundation initiative in Pakistan: A success story of professionalism and friendship

The Cure2Children (C2C) Foundation is an international NGO having its headquarters in Italy and founded by a group of parents who lost their child to cancer and their treating physicians. Its presence in Pakistan is due to a Pakistani couple with a thalassemia daughter, Ayesha who was cured through Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT) in Italy. Ayesha’s parents with their commitment and dedication have been the driving force behind C2C’s mission in Pakistan. The support of Italian mission in Islamabad in this humanitarian mission has been monumental. Many other people however, have contributed to this achievement, from doctors and nurses, to local administrators of both government and private institutions, like the National institute of Blood diseases in Karachi, the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), Shifa International Hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan Baitulmal and Heartfile.
 
The mission of Cure2Children (C2C) is to help children with life-threatening disorders to receive best available treatments in their home countries and spare their families the personal and financial hardship of seeking healthcare abroad. The initial focus of C2C’s efforts has been thalassemia, the most common chronic and life-threatening non-infectious disease of children with more than 60,000 children suffering from this disease and an estimated 5,000 new cases are born yearly only in Pakistan. Children with thalassemia are unable to make normal red cells resulting in severe anemia and are transfusion dependent. In Pakistan supportive care costs are in the range of PKR 15,000/month (USD 300 per month) but, in spite of this, the majority of children die before adolescence. Bone marrow transplant (BMT) is the only curative treatment with cost of 1.5 million PKR (USD 30,000). About 50% of children have a compatible sibling and can have a 90% cure probability if they receive BMT before 5 years of age.
 
Thanks to the unrelenting work and professionalism of many Pakistani and Italian professionals, C2C could able to support a small network of private and governmental institutions, offering safe and affordable bone marrow transplantation (BMT) for the cure of thalassemia major with results comparable to those obtained in Italy (the country with the largest experience in the field) but with one tenth of the costs.
 
The C2C’s project ‘Prevention and Cure of Thalassemia Major in Pakistan’ was initially funded by Fondazione Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy and since December 2010 is being funded with 85 Million PKR (Approximately USD 980,000) by Italian government through the Pakistani-Italian Dept-for-development Swap Agreement (PIDSA). In 2008, a two-bed BMT unit was developed at the Children Hospital of the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad by joint collaboration of C2C and PIMS. This unit, the first one of this kind in a government hospital in Pakistan, is also performing screening and prevention in extended families. Under this project, more than 700 families have been provided with preventive counseling and over 1000 persons have been screened for Thalassemia carrier state and antenatal screening during pregnancy while 90 bone marrow transplants for thalassemia and aplastic anemia have been partially or fully sponsored in 3 institutes of Pakistan. This project has been an example of successful public-private partnership among corporate hospitals, academic centers, nongovernmental organizations and governments.
 
The role of C2C as a third-party professional organization has also been to foster collaborations promoting the use of common protocols and procedures, reassure patients and professionals in the start-up phase of new teams, decrease unnecessary expenses, and assist in fund-development.
 
Implementing relatively complex procedures like bone marrow transplantation for the cure of severe diseases of childhood is as important as dealing with basic healthcare because of its higher potential to empower health care systems. Increasing motivation and retention of professionals, contributing to research and development, improving international competitiveness and higher education are priority goals.
 
C2C has proved that open collaboration and interchange among doctors and nurses worldwide is critical to increase global knowledge and ultimately save more children everywhere. Now more institutions have considered taking over the challenge, affording patients are increasingly aware that in their home country they can receive very appropriate care.
 
The project is relatively small but important contribution in the direction for working together on shared values and principles across cultures and religions.
 
Article by Dr. Sadaf Kahlid, Pakistan Branch Coordinator, Cure2Children for the magazine "Diplomatic Focus" on the occasion of the Italian National Day (2nd of June)

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