Dr. Ronnie Barr continues to campaign for better children's medications
When Dr. Ronnie Barr began his training in internal medicien-later specializing in hematology-he never dreamed he would one day end up as the first Head of the Hematology/Oncology Division in the Department of Pediatrics at McMaster University (a position he held for 30 years), much less spend a term as Chair of Pediatrics.
McMaster's medical school had a big Department of Medicine, which had a big Division of Hematology," Barr recalls of his intitial interest in the school more than three decades ago. "That Division was the strongest in Canada, and so the real attraction to McMaster was its strength in hematology. But the job offer came from the Department of Pediatrics-and that provided an opportunity to become part of a bigger group of hematologists." Barr led this regional program in hematology for more than a decade.
Today, Barr is a Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Pathology, and Medicine, and also sits on a drug review committee for the World Health Organization (WHO), which allows him to advocate for children around the world who need life-saving medication.
In his 40 years working in international child health, Barr says the lack of available cancer treatments for children in poorer countries is upsetting and the quality of treatments that are available is also a concern.
"Its a big problem if the drugs being given are ineffective, and the availability of anti-cancer drugs for children is a clear problem in more than 100 countries," he says, adding that most of the medication on the WHO's Model List of Essential Medicines are for adults and are not relevant for children.
In 2014, he and his colleagues were able "to make the case for a small number of additional drugs for children" to be added to the List. He remains optimistic that they will be.
Outside of his international child health work, Barr is spending an increasing amount of time on a demographic that he believes gets too little attention: adolescents and young adults (AYA).
"They fall between the cracks because they're not kids and they're not adults, and there's more of them with cancer than kids with cancer," Barr says.
Fortunately, in 2008, the nationally-funded Canadian Partnership Against Cancer accepted that the AYA age group had been largely excluded. As aresult, a national task force was created specifically for young people between the ages of 15 and 29. Barr was selected as Co-Chair of the task force, which was headquartered at McMaster.
Recently, Barr was recognized with a 2014 Pediatric Academic Leadership-Clinician Practitioner Award from the Pediatric Chairs of Canada for his extensive clinical and research work in pediatrics. Although he says being acknowledged for his work was an honour, it's the progress he's made to help children with life-threatening diseases that been the real reward.
"I've been provided the opportunity to engage in cutting edge research on treatments for children with malignant diseases for more than 30 years, and I've been able to interact with a wide variety of people. That's the value of being on a relatively small campus," he says. "But the real achievement has been the productivity of our research."
Read the Research: Update!
Dr. Ronnie Barr and his colleagues have recently published several articles relating to their work with WHO, as described in the article above. Read the articles:
- "SPECIAL REPORT: Medicines for Cancers in Children: The WHO Models for Selection of Essential Medicines", published in the journal, Pediatric Blood Cancer, in 2015.
- "Access to Cytotoxic Medicines by Children With Cancer: A Focus on Low and Middle Income Countries", published in the journal, Pediatric Blood Cancer, in 2016.
- "Proposing Essential Medicines to Treat Cancer: Methodologies, Processes, and Outcomes", published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, in 2016.