By: Dr. Judy Salerno
Susan G. Komen President & CEO
The following blog appeared in The Huffington Post on February 4, 2016.
Today’s World Cancer Day holds special meaning to those of us at Susan G. Komen.
While we first put down roots in the U.S. in 1982, we have worked in more than 60 countries since our founding to reduce breast cancer deaths in countries where the disease still carries stigma and shame, and where resources to treat it are scarce. We’re encouraged by the fact that breast cancer mortality rates have dropped by 36 percent since 1989 in the U.S., and that 3.1 million women and men are surviving this disease every day.
But breast cancer is still the most prevalent cancer in women worldwide, and its incidence is growing, with more than 1.6 million new cases expected this year. The burden is felt especially hard in low- and middle-income countries, where the nearest hospital may be a day’s journey away. These women have not experienced the same gains as those in the western world.
No matter the country or region, we have consistently learned through our work that conquering cancer is not only about research and therapies. It requires creative and innovative solutions to ensure that women and men everywhere have access to the advances that could save their lives.
Transportation is among those issues. I recently read about Zaina, a subsistence farmer and single mother of three in Tanzania. After being diagnosed with cervical cancer, she journeyed 350 miles from her home to an unfamiliar city and the country’s only oncology facility. It was her only hope of survival, and her children’s only opportunity to grow up with their mother.
Roundtrip transportation from Zaina’s rural home to Dar es Salaam (the capital of Tanzania and home to Ocean Road Cancer Institute [ORCI]) was made possible by Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) — a private-public partnership founded in 2011 by Komen, PEPFAR, the George W. Bush Institute and UNAIDS to address the growing burden of breast and cervical cancer in sub-Saharan Africa. PRRR has helped hundreds of women travel from their homes to ORCI, their best (and only) option to receive cancer treatment.
Since its founding, PRRR has made it possible for 6,000 women in Africa to be screened for breast cancer. Another 200,000 women throughout Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia have been screened for cervical cancer, and 98 percent of eligible girls in Botswana have received the lifesaving HPV vaccination — thanks to PRRR partnerships.
Today, another groundbreaking program called Breast Cancer Initiative 2.5 (BCI2.5) kicks off a campaign to reduce deaths from breast cancer by reaching 2.5 million women by 2025. This initiative began as a call for action in 2014, supported by Komen, the Union for International Cancer Control and the American Cancer Society. Since that initial pledge, BCI2.5 has been working with partners around the world, assessing needs, identifying priorities, defining a strategy and developing tools to meet this goal.
Cancer is a global disease, which means all of us must work globally to create a world where women are educated about this disease, and where they can access quality health care.
It’s a comprehensive approach to women’s health, inclusive of breast cancer screening and prevention, that I believe will save lives and build healthier, reenergized communities worldwide.
Because, while February 4 only lasts for 24 hours, we believe every day that cancer claims another life is World Cancer Day. Our work must continue, and it’s our hope that, today and every day, no matter what country you call home, you’ll join us and be a part of a truly global effort to end cancer.
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