When Russian forces invaded Ukraine in February 2022, disruptions in civilian life (particularly to the healthcare system) created a dire situation for Ukrainian children with cancer and blood disorders. In response, the St. Jude Global initiative of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital banded together with many international partners and formed Supporting Action for Emergency Response in Ukraine (SAFER Ukraine). An account of SAFER Ukraine appears in the September issue of The Lancet Haematology.
SAFER Ukraine partners include non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or foundations such as Fundacja Herosi and Tabletochki Charity Foundation, the Polish Society of Pediatric Oncology and Hematology (PSPOH), the International Society for Pediatric Oncology-Europe, Childhood Cancer International-Europe and government agencies plus many other volunteers and contributors. The effort facilitated the safe evacuation of more than 900 patients and families to reestablish medical care abroad.
“SAFER Ukraine demonstrates the importance of collaborative networks in global health, with participation from individuals, institutions and governments, to facilitate both rapid responses to emergencies and ongoing capacity building to improve patient care and outcomes,” said first and co-corresponding author Asya Agulnik, M.D., M.P.H., St. Jude Department of Global Pediatric Medicine, St. Jude Global Euro Regional Program director and St. Jude Global Critical Care Program director.
A model for international cooperation
The SAFER Ukraine effort provides a proof-of-concept for global health that can be leveraged in future international emergency responses. There were several unique and notable characteristics of SAFER Ukraine that helped the effort be successful. These factors include the patient population, geopolitical context and well-established pre-war collaborations.
For example, childhood cancer treatment can be effective but requires precise timing. Patients whose care was interrupted can benefit from a rapid evacuation and relocation to a hospital where they can continue their care. If performed quickly, these patients can receive a substantial survival benefit. The war also galvanized support for Ukraine, with the European Union extending immediate protection and legal status to Ukrainian refugees. That status created the legal and financial framework that ultimately made it possible to refer patients throughout Europe for care. Additionally, St. Jude Global already had partnerships in the region. The rapid repurposing of existing collaborative networks was key to the effort’s success.
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