By Jasminee Sahoye
From the University of the West Indies (UWI), Jamaica to the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, Dr Upton Allen has never forgotten his alma mater, UWI, which laid the foundation for his superb career in medicine.
He holds several designations behind his name but appears to be a very humble individual. As a professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto and Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases, Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Allen was recently honoured with the UWI Vice-Chancellor’s award for his contributions to medicine and the Caribbean-SickKids Paediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Project.
“There is an extremely wide gap in childhood cancer survival rates in Canada on one hand the Caribbean on the other hand. The gap is significant. Our goal is simple and that is, we want to reduce or eliminate that gap, so that in five years, we can see no daylight between both countries in terms of survival rates. We want to save lives and improve the quality of lives of children who actually survived cancer so that they and their families we believe deserve better. The project is entirely funded by philanthropy and today it will have raised over $3.5 million towards an $8 million goal. We sincerely believe that this initiative will be transformational and does indeed have the potential to be one of the most significant advancement in the care of children with cancers in the Caribbean for many decades,” Dr Allen told a sold out crowd at the fourth annual UWI Toronto benefit gala recently.
He serves as the co-chair of the project with Dr. Victor Blanchette as the medical director. Blanchette grew up in Barbados and is Chief of the Division of Haematology/Oncology at the Hospital for Sick Children and Professor of Paediatrics at the University of Toronto.
The project is a collaborative initiative between the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and six Caribbean countries, aimed at improving outcomes from childhood cancers in Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, The Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and St. Lucia.
He says it is extremely rewarding to see the success of those who he taught in the field of medicine. “It is rewarding to be able cure patients, taking them from death’s door and providing them with a new lease on life.”
Dr. Allen was born in Jamaica and grew up in the parish of Portland. He received his medical degree from the University of the West Indies, Kingston, Jamaica. He received paediatric training at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto. His sub-specialty training in Infectious Diseases was also done at The Hospital for Sick Children. He obtained further research training leading to an MSc degree in Clinical Epidemiology from McMaster University. Prior to the start of his paediatric training in Canada, he worked on the Infectious Diseases service at the Princess Margaret Hospital, Nassau, Bahamas.
He says his greatest accomplishment is to have reached the pinnacle of academia as measured by any yardstick in any country because of the foundation provided by the University of the West Indies.
He shared stories about the pursuit of his career noting that his first research paper while at UWI was on the medicinal properties of cannibis sativa, otherwise known as ganja or marijuana. “I’m sure you can imagine how special it is to be recognized by the University in the presence of my former professor of medicine who also happens by chance to be the chancellor of the UWI,” Allen said.
Dr. Allen is a Director of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and Fellow of the Society. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Paediatrics, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (UK). He is a past Chair of the Infectious Diseases Specialty Training Committee, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC). He is a member of the Specialty Standards Review Committee, RCPSC. He is a council member of the International Paediatric Transplant Association.