Ending Breast and Cervical Cancers in Tanzania

As I settle into my new role focused on global strategy and development, I want to share some exciting news.

This week, I am in Tanzania speaking at the African First Ladies Summit: #InvestinWomen, hosted by President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush. First Lady Michelle Obama will speak at the summit as well as Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete. It’s an honor to be in such esteemed company talking about women’s health and empowerment.

Komen has been active in Tanzania since 2008 when we held our first Race for the Cure in Dar Es Salaam with the Tanzanian Breast Cancer Foundation. On Monday, I met with breast cancer survivors and patients at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute. The bravery of these women, some of whom show up at the Institute with breast tumors protruding through their skin, is hard to comprehend. Walking the hospital floor, I saw first-hand the severity of the situation and remain resolute in my belief that we can and must do more to help these women.  More than 60 percent of cancer deaths occur in the developing world, yet only five percent of world cancer resources are dedicated there. And north and sub-Saharan Africa have some of the highest growth rates in breast and cervical cancer cases worldwide. According to the International Center for Research on Cancer, in 2008, there were 1,307 new cases of breast cancer and 739 deaths in Tanzania.

Susan G. Komen is a founding member of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon (PRRR) Partnership—alongside the George W. Bush Institute, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and UNAIDS. PRRR was launched in 2011 and leverages the PEPFAR platform to reduce deaths from breast and cervical cancers. Read more about our work with PRRR. Cervical cancer is four to five times higher in women who are HIV-positive, one of the reasons for such a high incidence rate. What’s heartbreaking is that we can help prevent the incidence and mortality rates of cervical cancer by providing women access to care and treatment they need and deserve, like pelvic exams. In fact, 80 to 90 percent of women in sub-Saharan Africa have never had a pelvic exam.

I am very pleased that just this past February, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation  announced that Tanzania was approved for funding for the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination. The HPV vaccination prevents the most common types of HPV that cause cervical cancer. Komen will support the Ministry of Health with community education and sensitization, and health worker training to rollout the vaccine.

Susan G. Komen’s work is vital in Africa, as it is all over the world as we work to keep the promise I made to my sister Suzy—to do everything possible to find the cures for breast cancer. Together, we can continue to save lives. And together, we will. Because where a woman lives should not determine whether she lives.

Watch highlights from my tour of Ocean Road Cancer Institute, the only specialized facility for cancer treatment in Tanzania below.

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.