Opinion | Advocacy work and awareness are key in children’s health

Advocacy is key to improving pediatric cancer outcomes.

While fundraising initiatives are essential, advocacy is key to improving children’s health outcomes. Since September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we need to look at ways we can advocate for accessible healthcare and childhood cancer awareness.

While childhood cancer treatment is always evolving and changing as research is done, childhood cancer rates have increased slightly over the past decade. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in children up to the age of 14.

When advocating for childhood cancer, we cannot ignore health inequalities and must address them. We need to ask ourselves where these differences come from and what steps we can take to overcome them.

While childhood cancer continues to change the lives of many children and families, only four percent of federal funding for cancer research is allocated to childhood cancer. This makes advocacy crucial in the fight against childhood cancer.

The ultimate goal should be universal health care. However, families struggling to pay for their child’s treatment need small steps.

While childhood cancer has achieved an 83 percent survival rate, we still have a long way to go when it comes to accessible health care. Children from low-income households make up 43 percent of childhood cancer diagnoses, meaning they will face significant financial stress.

Maximum cash limits are essential for families undergoing childhood cancer treatment. These limits prevent families from spending a certain amount on medications and procedures through treatment. This limit changes every year. For 2021, it’s $8,550 for individual insurance plans and $17,100 for family plans.

Most families will reach this limit within the first three months of treatment. This protection is essential for these families, but many still struggle to pay the costs up to these limits. These maximum own spending limits should be lowered and adjusted to meet the needs of the family.

But financial stress isn’t the only barrier for families dealing with childhood cancer.

Race and socioeconomic status have an effect on cancer treatment and outcomes. Non-Hispanic white children are most likely to be diagnosed with cancer. However, the number of children dying from cancer is similar in these three groups. This indicates that black and non-white Hispanic children diagnosed with cancer are less likely to survive.

In addition to findings showing that race influences childhood cancer statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have evidence that suggests location plays a role. There are several things that can affect cancer risk, varying by geographic location. For example, increased exposure to carcinogens with air pollution and genetic variation in some populations.

In addition to families bearing the weight of cancer treatment, COVID-19 is another concern. Children now account for nearly 25 percent of Iowa’s COVID-19 hospitals. Children with cancer have a 20 percent chance of serious symptoms with COVID-19, while other children have a 1 to 6 percent chance of a serious infection.

It is especially important to do this advocacy work now as this vulnerable population faces the pandemic and increasing threats from COVID-19.

These issues go beyond healthcare accessibility and research funding; however, these are still things we have to argue for. One thing that is essential for effective treatment is early diagnosis. Findings show that higher-income countries with accessible health care generally have a pediatric cancer survival rate of over eighty percent.

All children and families with childhood cancer have the right to access safe and affordable healthcare. Getting a diagnosis as early as possible and having the resources to advocate for the best possible care is critical. Advocacy is a big part of how to open the doors to better care.

Columns reflect the views of the authors and are not necessarily those of the editorial board, The Daily Iowan or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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