The charities of Singapore and Hong Kong headed by Jennifer Yeo aim to raise the survival rates of children stricken by cancer in Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China.
“We hope children won’t die of leukaemia but we can treat it like the common cold. That is our dream,” Jennifer Yeo, the wife of former Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo, told The Independent Singapore.
Jennifer Yeo chairs the Singapore-based VIVA Foundation for Children with Cancer (VIVA Singapore) and the Hong Kong-registered VIVA China Children’s Cancer Foundation Limited (VIVA China).
“VIVA in Singapore and VIVA in Hong Kong are the two pillars of the bridge linking China with South East Asia,” Jennifer Yeo said.
In 2019, VIVA Singapore and VIVA China, together with National University of Singapore (NUS), the National University Health System (NUHS, a public healthcare cluster in Singapore), Kandang Kerbau Hospital and the Shanghai Children’s Medical Center signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate in the field of childhood cancer.
“The knowledge being discovered by the doctors in China and Hong Kong can help children with cancer in Singapore,” Yeo added.
For example, Singapore, like Hong Kong, has only 200 hundred to three hundred childhood cancer new diagnoses per year because of its small population, Yeo explained. To study 15,000 patients (in Singapore alone), one would have to wait 70 to 75 years, Yeo pointed out.
“Now with the study group in China involving ultimately 15,000 children, we already reached many milestones in our research within 10 years. This accelerates advances in the treatment and survival rate and ultimately the cure of children with cancer. This has great ramifications especially in countries where families have typically few children,” Yeo said.
Viva’s target is to have 15,000 children in its China study group by the end of 2024, said Jennifer Yeo. Right now, Viva’s China study group has more than 12,000 children.
VIVA China seeks to increase the cure rate for children with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL), the most common cancer afflicting children.
A project of VIVA China is the China Children’s Cancer Group-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (CCCG-ALL), the biggest study group in the world. It has published 14 papers in international journals, thus helping to advance the treatment and cure of ALL in the world.
“We hope that the overall survival rates of childhood ALL in Hong Kong and mainland China can be up to 95 percent, and the disease free survival (without relapse or complication death) can be up to 90 percent. This target may be achieved in 2025,” Li Chi Kong, a medical professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Independent Singapore.
Li’s team conducts studies of ALL in children, which is supported by VIVA China.
Currently, the five-year survival rate for children with leukaemia in hospitals in mainland China under VIVA China’s programme is 90.6 percent, said Yeo. The only way to increase the cure rate is by doing research which is medical treatment coupled with collection and analysis of data, Yeo explained.
Clinical research is one of the important measures to improve the treatment outcome in children with cancer, said Li. Data collection and good quality data is the essential component of successful research, Li stressed. VIVA China is supporting the funding for employing data managers in the various centres so that timely collection and submission of data to the central data centre can be achieved, Li added.
Jennifer Yeo established VIVA Singapore in 2006 to raise cure rates in Singapore and the region as an act of thanksgiving for the recovery of her son Frederick from leukaemia recounted George Yeo’s book Musings Series Two.
Toh Han Shih is chief analyst of Headland Intelligence, a Hong Kong risk consulting company