Dear colleagues and friends of the SIOP community,
Six months ago, when I took over the position of SIOP president, following my colleague and friend Professor Giorgio Perilongo, I certainly did not expect my role to become so quickly and so deeply involved in global politics! As the unforeseen results of Brexit and the US election unfold, SIOP members are facing new challenges.
The UK’s withdrawal from the EU, although still unclear in its impact, is unlikely to facilitate scientific collaboration in Europe, nor safeguard the critical role played by our UK colleagues in many European and SIOP initiatives. The US executive order that closely followed the new President’s inauguration raised immediate concerns within the medical community over the imposition, amongst other measures, of a 3-month ban on the issuance of new visas for citizens of six majority Muslim nations (Libya, Syria, the Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Somalia).
With the next annual SIOP congress being hosted in Washington, DC, the implications of this ban are sure to have an impact on our annual activity. Some members may be reluctant to submit an abstract, anticipating major challenges in their travel to the USA this fall. Others, in order to express solidarity with colleagues from blacklisted countries, have expressed their intention to boycott the 49th SIOP congress. Alternative options like changing the Congress’ location, although carefully considered by the Board, were quickly shown to have disastrous financial repercussions on SIOP’s work.
But the other question that remains is: what would the true impact of a boycott be? Realistically, a boycott would bear no effect on those policies implemented by the current US administration. As proud as we are to all be a part of a global paediatric oncology network, we must admit that SIOP’s visibility remains faint in today’s political landscape, especially if that visibility wishes to define itself by our absence. However, to hold our annual meeting in Washington is to provide SIOP with an opportunity to express our collective viewpoints, engaging with the media as we reach out to newspapers, radio broadcasts, TV outlets, etc. Washington’s political status as US capital renders it the ideal place to advocate for a society where scientific knowledge and patient care know neither borders nor discrimination.
One year ago, during a visit to Ukraine, I remember learning about the country’s difficulty in accessing actinomycin for children with solid tumours. This inaccessibility had persisted despite repeated requests from many paediatric oncology units. With my friend, Dr. Roman Kizyma, paediatric oncologist in Lviv, we were able to raise and discuss this issue during a joint intervention in a TV program dedicated to childhood cancer. Today, actinomycin is available in all paediatric oncology units across the country. This experience completely changed my perspective on the power of the media and the role it can play in building a healthier world. By working with them, I strongly believe that our presence in Washington will have a much bigger impact than our absence.
I would like to end by reiterating SIOP’s commitment to supporting all colleagues wishing to attend this year’s meeting in Washington, especially those impacted by the executive order. Should their request be denied by the US administration, we will support all cancellation costs. Our solidarity not only emanates from a strong sense of community within SIOP, but also from our joint commitment towards helping children living with cancer and their families. Today, nearly a quarter of the world’s children live in conflict or disaster stricken areas; we must reflect this reality by adapting our research to the different working environments in which it will be deployed. To this end, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Fouad’s conference at the last WCC meeting. Our colleagues are truly doing incredible work despite the conflict environment they operate in. I believe we all owe them as much support and coverage as possible, as these individuals are, in their everyday lives, making the impossible, possible.