Health and wellness

Hongkongers have heads shaved to support children’s cancer research

The St Baldrick’s fundraiser sees people of all ages shave their heads in solidarity with children who lose their hair during cancer treatment. Since it began in July 1999, it has raised US$234 million in 27 countries

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 2:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 2:02pm

“Am I nervous? … Not at all,” joked Shane Akeroyd, moments before a barber shaved his head in front of a crowd of colleagues. “If this starts to go wrong, stop them.”

More than 100 employees of global financial services company IHS Markit chose to be shaved bald or have their hair dyed on Thursday, to raise money for St Baldrick’s, the world’s leading private funder of childhood cancer research grants.

This year, three men and three women took part in Hong Kong, live streaming their efforts across the company’s global offices. It marked the 11th year of supporting the charity, during which time a total of US$3.5 million has been raised.

Three New York executives founded St Baldrick’s in July 1999, when one challenged the others over how they were going to give back after doing well in business.

A year later, at an annual St Patrick’s Day party in Manhattan for the reinsurance industry, 19 heads were shaved and US$104,000 was donated to the Children’s Oncology Group, the world’s largest organisation devoted to paediatric cancer research.

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In 2005 the charity set up as an independent foundation, and in 2006, Richard Kliger brought it to Hong Kong after he witnessed his five-year-old son battle stage four cancer. Since the charity was founded, it has raised US$234 million in 27 countries.

Thursday was the eighth time in 10 years that Akeroyd, regional head of Asia Pacific, has had his hair shaved off for the cause, raising more than US$17,000 in the process.

“The first time I had it done was in New York, where I lived previously,” recalls Akeroyd, who is close friends with Enda McDonnell, one of the charity’s founders.

“I flew back to London, where my seven-year-old daughter was playing rugby, and arrived at the playground straight from the aeroplane. I stood on the touchline watching her play and she saw me, bald, and burst into tears. It’s pretty unforgiving – all the bumps and imperfections show up.”

More than 1,000 St Baldrick’s head-shaving events are organised annually worldwide, with four in Hong Kong this year, in solidarity with children who typically lose their hair during cancer treatment. Each year 300,000 children are diagnosed with cancer worldwide, one every two minutes, according to St Baldrick’s Foundation.

In Hong Kong, roughly one in every 100,000 children is diagnosed annually; there were 187 in 2016, according to the Hong Kong Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Study Group.

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Leukaemia is the most common cancer, accounting for 34 per cent of cases in 2016, followed by brain tumours and lymphoma. The disease accounts for 30 per cent of all children’s deaths in the city.

Despite this, the US government dedicates just four per cent of its healthcare budget to childhood cancer research, while the Hong Kong government does not earmark any money to spend on it.

I know there isn’t a lot of research going on for children’s cancer, so I wanted to help by participating
Caridee Choi

Over the past 20 years, only four new drugs have been approved specifically to treat children with cancer, making fundraising all the more vital.

All the money St Baldrick’s raises in Hong Kong goes to the research side of local charity the Children’s Cancer Foundation, which funds research at the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“St Baldrick’s has partnered with our foundation since 2006. They host events to raise money for child cancer research in Hong Kong. So far, they have sponsored 22 research projects and have donated HK$23 million in the past 11 years,” says Lucille Wong, a spokeswoman for the charity.

“St Baldrick’s funds 80 per cent of the research we sponsor,” says Wong. “It is very important that these events happen as they support the research which is needed for the future and advancement of treatment.”

Advances in research mean that, now, a child can be given a more accurate second dosage of chemotherapy, as doctors are able to count how many cancer cells are in the blood.

“I know there isn’t a lot of research going on for children’s cancer, so I wanted to help by participating,” says sales associate Caridee Choi, who dyed her hair purple – a colour associated with power.

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“It’s really great for those people who are actually shaving their hair to show their bravery and commitment to fighting children’s cancer.”

If you’re interested in supporting children’s cancer research by having your own head shaved, or hair dyed, or if you’d like to donate to someone who is, see the St Baldrick’s Foundation website. The next St Baldrick’s fundraising, head-shaving event takes place at the Hard Rock Café in Lan Kwan Fong, LG/F LKF Tower, 55 D’Aguilar St, Central, on March 21, from 6.30pm. Tel: 2111 3777.