International Women’s Day and Our Work Across the Globe

In villages across Africa, women often arrive for breast cancer treatment with tumors breaking through their skin, in agony, and little in the way of medical resources or treatments to help them.   Their journey to treatment may have been several hundred miles…by foot.  Their cancers very far advanced, these women may not even have access to the palliative care that could ease their suffering and allow them to leave this world in peace.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to Africa.  We at Susan G. Komen see women dying needlessly from breast cancer all across the world. And unhappily, we also see it here in the United States, where medical resources are abundant, but where cash-strapped low-income and uninsured women often can’t access the medical system that could save them.  Hoping for the best, they delay medical treatment until it is also too late.

I think of these women on days like today – International Women’s Day – which started as a day for working women in the early 1900s and has grown to embrace women’s rights and well-being on a global scale. This day, of all days, reminds me of our approach at Komen, that women’s health must be treated as a fundamental human right.

This is especially critical at a time when the world is on the cusp of a cancer pandemic.   Up to 70 percent of all new cancer cases will strike in low- and middle-resource countries that are least able to handle them.  In fact, the rate of cancer in these countries is growing at such an alarming rate that in 2011, for the first time, the United Nations General Assembly recognized non-communicable diseases like cancer for the first time.

Breast cancer is already the leading cancer diagnosed in women, and its impact will become even more profound. According to the World Breast Cancer Report 2012 – published by the International Prevention Research Institute and funded by Susan G. Komen – there will be more than 1.6 million women diagnosed with breast cancer this year, compared to about 641,000 in 1980. And unless we make significant progress, more than 3.6 million women in low-resource countries will die of breast cancer between 2015 and 2024.

We are committed to changing those numbers.

We recently gathered world government leaders, health leaders, nonprofits and corporate leaders to our first Global Cancer Summit, underwritten by GE healthymagination, to set specific goals for addressing the cancer pandemic.

Together, we committed to improving cancer outcomes, especially in low-resource countries, by reaching 2.5 million women facing breast cancer in these countries by the year 2025. The program is called, simply enough, “2.5 by 2025.”

We’re optimistic about the success of this initiative because we’ve already seen what partnership can do in the international arena.  We partner with organizations in more than 30 countries, and we are  founding partners of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon initiative, a global initiative with the George W. Bush Institute, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).  Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon uses public and private investments in global health to combat cervical and breast cancer – two of the leading causes of cancer death in women – in developing nations in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Komen is invested in these programs because my promise to my sister – to end breast cancer – doesn’t end at our country’s borders. I’ve been to these countries. I’ve seen the suffering. I know we can help. And so we are.

I hope you’ll join us on this mission to end the suffering for women, men and families around the world.

And let me now turn to women facing the fight: three survivors currently battling breast cancer in Zambia, Mexico and Bosnia. Please take a moment to watch the short documentary, United in Hope: A Global Journey, to see the real life stories of the women we are honoring and working towards on this special day of recognition.

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.