Komen Launches Petition Drive on www.includecancer.org; Urges Leaders to Meet Goals for Maternal Health and Empowering Women
NEW YORK – September 22, 2009 – The leader of the global breast cancer movement today warned of a coming wave of cancer deaths and told global health ministers to be “fearless and united” in addressing the growing cancer crisis, particularly in developing countries.
“Cancer takes more lives every year than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined,” said Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker, founding chair of Susan G. Komen for the Cure and a World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control. “Now is the time to focus our attention on this global fight,” she told world health ministers gathered for the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly. Read Ambassador Brinker’s full speech to the Global Health Ministers.
Brinker proposed that the world’s health ministers integrate cancer screening and treatment under existing health programs in developing countries, which would dramatically improve women’s and maternal health.
The rising wave of cancer worldwide is expected to double by the year 2030 – killing some 17 million people every year. The devastation will be felt most by the nations now least equipped to deal with it, she said. For example:
- More than 60 percent of all cancer deaths occur in developing countries, yet only 5 percent of global resources for cancer are spent in the developing world.
- By 2030, developing countries will bear approximately 70 percent of global cancer deaths.
- But 40 percent of these cancer deaths are preventable now – a percentage that should only improve as the science advances. And a substantial number of cancers are successfully treatable.
Many countries don’t have reliable statistics for cancer cases in their countries, but those that do offer some explanation for why cancer deaths are growing in the developing world. Many of the diets and lifestyle habits blamed for the rise in cancer in wealthier nations (tobacco use and unhealthy diets) are now making their way into the developing world.
In addition, success in fighting other diseases has extended more lives into the “cancer demographic,” that is, older women and men. Still, “cancer victims in many countries are unscreened, undiagnosed, and untreated right up until the end – without so much as pain management. In the statistical equivalent of an unmarked grave, the cause of their suffering and death isn’t even specified,” Brinker said.
Brinker said nations can address this growing crisis today, particularly for women and without considerable additional expense, simply by including cancer screening and treatment in health programs already underway in HIV/AIDS clinics and government-run health centers, citing cervical cancer as one example.
Although most cervical cancer cases are preventable if diagnosed early, sub-Saharan Africa along with Latin America and South Asia have the highest mortality rates in the world. A study of HIV-positive women in Zambia by Dr. Jeff Stringer and Dr. Groesbeck Parham, found that 20 percent of women who are HIV-positive also have cervical cancer. Through his Cervical Cancer Screening Program in Zambia, he has screened and treated more than 30,000 women. Every HIV/AIDS clinic in Africa could offer that same simple test for little added expense, and the impact would be momentous, Brinker said.
“In fighting one disease from a platform built for another, we are saving lives,” Brinker said. “By thinking of creative new ways to include cancer in what we are already doing, we can confront this crisis immediately.”
She said women’s cancer screenings fit squarely into the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals for maternal health and empowering women.
“How can we fully serve the goal of improving maternal health, unless we target the cancers that kill so many mothers? And how can we credibly speak about empowering women, when breast cancer, cervical cancers, and other illnesses affecting women are all equally neglected,” she asked.
“The job of screening women, helping patients, spreading knowledge and saving lives does not rest with one nation alone,” said Brinker. “We must take this fight everywhere, and especially to places where cancer victims have no defenses, no advocates, and little understanding of what they are up against. If we fail to act, then treatments and cures for cancer will be a luxury only enjoyed by wealthy nations – and that is an injustice we cannot accept.”
About Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker
Earlier this year Brinker received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the United States and was named a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control for the United Nations’ World Health Organization. In 1982, she founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure after promising her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer, so that no one would suffer as Susan Komen did.
Since then, Komen has grown to become the world’s largest grassroots breast cancer organization, investing almost $1.5 billion into breast cancer research and support, screening and education programs for women worldwide.
As U.S. Ambassador to Hungary in the early 2000s and U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009, Brinker helped enlist governments, non-governmental organizations and in-country advocates to bring breast cancer advocacy and programs to low-resource countries throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, all while Komen continued to serve more than 120 communities throughout the United States.