Pink Ribbon | Red Ribbon: UICC World Cancer Congress

It’s been almost a year since Susan G. Komen co-launched the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon program and every time I get to speak about it I am even more excited about this unique program and its potential to save the lives of millions of women.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) is an initiative to expand access to cervical and breast cancer services in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America by integrating cancer services into existing service delivery platforms designed to fight HIV/AIDS. (Learn more here.) It comes down to this: What a tragedy it is to save a woman from HIV/AIDS only to lose her to breast or cervical cancer a couple years later. Especially when these diseases are detectable and treatable.

Yesterday, I joined a panel at the UICC World Cancer Congress in Montreal, Canada, to discuss the progress PRRR is making. On the panel were First Lady of Zambia, H.E. Dr. Christine Kaseba; the Minister of Health and Social Welfare for Tanzania, H.E. Dr. Hussein Mwinyi; and the Director of the Center for Global Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Kevin De Cock. Dr. Ben Anderson, from the Universtiy of Washington, moderated our discussion. We talked about not only the work to be done, but also to draw attention to the great advances thus far in women’s health in Africa.

The panel’s overarching theme today was exactly the concept that makes PRRR work: integration. As the old saying goes, many hands make light work, which was the principle that prompted President George W. Bush’s PEPFAR program and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS to join Komen to fight on behalf of women’s health.

Dr. Mwinyi said cancer problems in Tanzania are getting out of hand and attempts to build vertical programs to fight cancer won’t work. He is a firm believer that streamlined partnerships are the best and most sustainable way to attack these problems.

Dr. De Cock from the U.S. CDC emphasized the importance of metrix and good data to help scope the challenges we face in various populations. He also talked about the vital importance of registration systems.

Zambia’s First Lady provided just that — concrete data on how integration is already making changes in her country.  One example: The Komen-supported Cancer Prevention Alliance Zambia (CAPRAZ). This is a consortium of seven local cancer advocacy NGOs committed to raise awareness about cervical and breast cancer. And wow, how the power of consortium (see, there’s that “many hands” idea again!) makes the difference.

For instance, the First Lady told us that just two weeks ago, Zambian nurses completed a training program for performing clinical breast exams.  Between December 2011 and July 2012, more than 13,000 women in Zambia have been screened for cervical cancer with approximately 20 percent found to be VIA positive. They were then either treated with cryotherapy or referred for further diagnosis and appropriate advanced treatment.

It’s been said that, “if you build it they will come.” But this isn’t a “field of dreams,” and it is not a game. This is a matter of life and death and we are saving lives through Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.

About the author

Nancy G. Brinker has written 27 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Ambassador Nancy G. Brinker founded Susan G. Komen on a promise she made to her sister, Susan G. Komen, that she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer. She led a relentless breast cancer information and awareness campaign and succeeded in breaching the silence surrounding the disease, fundamentally changing the way it is talked about and treated. She started the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure® and also pioneered cause-related marketing, both of which have had a profound impact on the breast cancer movement. An outspoken champion of all people with breast cancer as well as those who are at risk for developing the disease, Ambassador Brinker takes her cause and her passion all over the world, seeking the fresh input and international partnerships essential to ending breast cancer forever. Among her many leadership roles, Brinker served as U.S. Ambassador to Hungary from 2001-2003 and as U.S. Chief of Protocol from 2007-2009.