Many Colombian children die of cancer due to delayed treatment

World Today

Poverty can be a huge barrier for cancer patients seeking treatment in developing nations. But in Colombia, many families with sick children face an even bigger barrier.

CCTV America’s Michelle Begue reports on the daunting bureaucracy imposed by health insurance providers and its direct link to thousands of children’s deaths.

Many Colombian children die of cancer due to delayed treatment

Colombia's health insurance providers have direct link to the deaths of children with cancers. CCTV America's Michelle Begue reports.

In January of 2015, the lives of Diana Colmenarez and her son, George, changed forever. George, a 7-year-old Colombian boy, was diagnosed with Leukemia.

What came next was a year and a half of hardship, not just because of the diagnosis, but because the family was forced to take legal action against their health insurance provider, for four times, in order to get the attention George needed.

Family members going through lengthy paperwork to get a diagnosis in order to get treatment is a common story for sick children in Colombia.

Their plight made recent headlines when a group of young cancer patients wrote letters to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and his minister of health, asking them to intervene.

One boy’s death in July sparked the letter-writing campaign. Organizers said he died while waiting for approval for a bone marrow transplant – and he waited for two months.

In fact, it has been confirmed by government accounts that children are dying amid bureaucratic delays.

According to a 2015 report from Colombia’s Public Defenders’ office, 60 percent of the nation’s children with cancer had died from a lack of timely access to treatment. Children’s overall survival rates are about 80 percent in developed nations like the United States and Britain.

“Having to authorize every treatment, every medicine, every intervention made on a child with cancer is probably one of the biggest barriers,” Dr. Amaranto Suarez of Colombia National Cancer Institute said.

According to Dr. Suarez, many families abandon treatment because of these barriers.

Yipsel Bello works at a foundation that helps families demand their patient’s rights. She explained how poverty and other factors come into play.

“There is also the geographical issue,” Bello said. “Children that have to get treatment in the city come from far away rural towns and communities, where they have to travel via boat or a bus that only leaves during certain hours or days.”

The Colmenares family knows this all too well. Diana moved from their hometown Bucaramanga to Bogota where they rent a room while George receives a bone marrow transplant- not an easy move as she had to quit her job and leave her younger son and husband.

But Diana says the most important thing is to savor every moment she has with George, as she knows tomorrow is not guaranteed.