A new research paper analysing the results of the Simona Project shows that the provision of information and expertise from a hospital in Italy has clearly improved the diagnoses and management of paediatric cancer at the primary childhood oncology unit in Iraq.
By the early 2000s, healthcare in Iraq had suffered after decades of war and economic sanctions. One of those to respond was paediatric haematologist Dr. Anna Maria Testi from Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, who set up the Simona Project (later renamed TOGETHER) after a visit to Baghdad in 2003. This enabled paediatric oncologists at the Sapienza University of Rome to provide up-to-date medical information and services to the Children’s Welfare Teaching Hospital (CWTH) in Baghdad via satellite.
Over 12 years of collaboration between the two hospitals took place, 1182 patients aged up to 16 years old at CWTH received care through the project, including 500 whose cases were discussed during teleconsultation sessions.
It took place Under the coordination of the Telemedicine service provider Telbios, with the involvement of the Italian humanitarian aid organisation INTERSOS, the Policlinico Umberto I Haematology Department at Sapienza University of Rome and the Children Paediatric Hospital. In Iraq Mazin Al-Jadiry and Salma Hadad worked on the project.
The benefits of twinning and telemedicine
The research paper "'Comprehensive global collaboration in the care of 1182 pediatric oncology patients over 12 years: The Iraqi-Italian experience'", which was recently published in the journal Cancer Medicine, notes that “Twinning and telemedicine are proven strategies to improve care, speed the process of change and introduce new medical concepts in developing countries”. The positive results from the Simona project clearly align with this observation.
The teleconsultations enabled by ESA’s project, along with tele-education, exchange visits and the provision of second opinions on pathological findings, had a measurable effect on patient care. In some cases diagnoses were changed, as were treatment regimens and supportive care measures. The overall outcome included decreases in mortality, toxicities, infections and relapse rates. There was also a reduction in the rates of patients abandoning treatment, which was attributed to improved parental trust based on their awareness of the alliance with the Italian team.
“Long-term initiatives such as this collaboration between two medical facilities in different countries can make a difference to so many lives,” said Francesco Feliciani, Head of Companies-Led Projects Section at the Downstream Business Applications Department at ESA.
“Satellites can bring together experts across continents to enable them to support each other and thereby support their patients – on a practical level this simply can’t happen in any other way with such frequency and for so many years. ESA is proud to have supported the Simona Project and to know we’ve made a difference to the lives of so many children in Iraq.”
Meanwhile Mazin Faisal Al-Jadiry, assistant professor of paediatrics at the University of Baghdad said that the project has “helped to improve the diagnostic skills of our pathologists and as we are a tertiary and teaching centre the upgrading of the diagnostic skills will help to disseminate this experience to other parts of Iraq and to the new generations of pathologists and oncologists.”
The Simona Project is believed to have facilitated the most comprehensive telemedicine collaboration in paediatric oncology. Although the project has been finished for some time now, the positive outcomes are being maintained due to the improvements in knowledge and skills among the staff at CWTH.