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UN honours Henrietta Lacks, whose cells transformed medical research worldwide  – The Maravi Post

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This Wednesday, the UN World Health Organization’s (WHO) Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recognized her world-changing legacy with a special award.   

In 1951, while Ms. Lacks sought treatment, researchers took biopsies from her body without her knowledge or consent, and her cells became the first “immortal” cell line, now known as the “HeLa cells”.  

‘Reckoning’ with injustice 

Shockingly, as WHO points out, the global scientific community once hid her race and her real story, a historical wrong that Wednesday’s recognition hopes to help redress. 

For Tedros, in honouring Mrs. Lacks, the UN agency “acknowledges the importance of reckoning with past scientific injustices and advancing racial equity in health and science.” 

He said the award was also “an opportunity to recognize women, particularly women of colour, who have made incredible but often unseen contributions to medical science.” 

Legacy 

The award was received at the WHO office in Geneva by Lawrence Lacks, Ms. Lacks’ 87-year-old son.  

He is one of the last living relatives who personally knew her. Mr. Lacks was accompanied by several of Henrietta Lacks’ grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and other family members. 

Mr. Lacks said the family was moved to receive this historic recognition, honouring “a remarkable woman and the lasting impact of her HeLa cells.” 

“My mother’s contributions, once hidden, are now being rightfully honoured for their global impact,” he said.  

“My mother was a pioneer in life, giving back to her community, helping others live a better life and caring for others. In death she continues to help the world. Her legacy lives on in us and we thank you for saying her name – Henrietta Lacks.”  

According to WHO, women of colour continue to be disproportionately affected by cervical cancer. The COVID-19 pandemic has also exposed the many health inequities that persist among marginalized communities around the world. 

Studies in various countries consistently document that Black women are dying of cervical cancer at several times the rate of white women. Today, 19 of the 20 countries with the highest cervical cancer burdens are in Africa. 

Cervical cancer strategy 

The past year, which saw the 100th anniversary of Henrietta Lacks’ birth, also coincided with the launch of WHO’s Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer, an initiative Mrs. Lacks’ family has endorsed.  

Her relatives have also joined WHO in advocating for equity in access to the HPV vaccine, which protects against a range of cancers, including cervical cancer.  

Despite having been prequalified by WHO over 12 years ago, supply constraints and high prices still prevent adequate doses from reaching girls in low and middle-income countries. 

As of 2020, less than 25% of low-income countries and less than 30% of lower middle-income countries had access to the HPV vaccine through their national immunization programmes, compared with more than 85% of high-income countries. 

For the Assistant Director-General for Strategic Priorites and Special Advisor to the Director General, Princess Nothemba Simelela, “it is unacceptable that access to the lifesaving HPV vaccine can be shaped by your race, ethnicity or where you happen to be born.” 

Reminding that the HPV vaccine was developed using Henrietta Lacks’ cells, she added: “We owe it to her and her family to achieve equitable access to this groundbreaking vaccine.” 

Remarkable Contribution  

As a young mother, Henrietta Lacks and her husband were raising five children near Baltimore when she fell ill.  

She went to Johns Hopkins medical centre in the city, one of the few leading hospitals at the time which served African-Americans, after experiencing extensive vaginal bleeding and was diagnosed with cervical cancer.  Despite treatment, she died on October 4, 1951, at only 31 years old. 

During treatment, researchers took samples of her tumour. That “HeLa” cell line was a scientific breakthrough: the first immortal line of human cells to divide indefinitely, under laboratory conditions, to power research.  

The cells were mass produced, for profit, without recognition to her family. Over 50,000,000 metric tonnes of HeLa cells have been distributed around the world – forming part of over 75,000 studies. 

In addition to the HPV and polio vaccines, they allowed for development of drugs for HIV/AIDS, haemophilia, leukaemia, and Parkinson’s disease; breakthroughs in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization; research on chromosomal conditions, cancer, gene mapping, and precision medicine. 

Currently, they are being used in studies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Teal tribute 

Following the presentation of the award, the family and WHO proceeded to the shores of Lake Geneva, to watch the city’s iconic Jet d’Eau illuminate in the colour teal, the colour which marks cervical cancer awareness. 

It is the first of several world monuments that will illuminate in teal between now and November 17th, marking the first anniversary of the launch of the global elimination campaign.

UN Health News

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Malawi First lady Monica Chakwera calls for Monica Chakwera: As Think Pink Icon Blandina Khondowe celebrated – The Maravi Post

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The late Blandina in Black T-Shirt

LILONGWE-(MaraviPost)-Malawi ‘s First Lady Monica Chakwera has appealed to organisation and people of good will to work hand in hand with government in making sure that people especially rural women are aware of breast cancer.

Chakwera made a call on Tuesday night, October 12, 2021 at a fundraising dinner organised by Think Pink Malawi to remember the life of its founder Blandina Khondowe who died of cancer in November 21, 2020.

The first lady said it is sad that women are dying of breast cancer because they lacked information about the disease.

“Let us all borrow a leaf from the life from Blandina Khondowe who wanted to take breast cancer messages to rural communities. Each one of us should take this responsibility to inform other women in our villages about breast and cervical cancer.

We need to get organised to teach our women in the villages on breast cancer and educate them on self-breast cancer exam,” she said.

Chakwera who made a donation of MK1 Million said medical research shows over 80 percent of breast cancer cases are curable if detected early.

She therefore asked women to always go for cancer examination, screening and treatment saying cancer is not e death sentence since it can be cured if detected early.

She expressed happiness to note that some corporate institutions have teamed up with Think Pink Malawi in raising awareness about the disease.

The first lady also advised medical practitioners to speed up in making referral on cases that needs special treatment.

Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda Kandodo said the presence of the first lady at the event demonstrates government commitments to fight cancer in the country.

She said President Lazarus Chakwera has ordered her ministry to complete the construction of cancer center at all cost.

She added that some of the challenges cancer patients are facing will be overcome once the cancer center becomes operational.

“Government is doing all it can to fight against the disease. We have enough drugs for treatment of various cancers in Malawi,” he said.

Co-founder of Think Pink Cleanor Nkosi thanked men for who stand with her organisation to fight against breast cancer.

She described Khondowe as a very passionate lady who was very instrumental in advocating for adequate cancer equipment in hospitals.

“Even at a time she knew she was dying she could still talk to people about the danger of danger and the importance of early detection,” she said.

She said the fight against cancer is being challenged by fear and misconception in communities adding; “it is not true and proper for one to believe that once you have cancer then your breast will be removed.”

Nkosi said all the funds raised will be used to buy a bus which her organisation be using when carrying out programs in communities.

Khondowe was an advocate for breast cancer awareness and she spoke highly about lack on facilities and access to equitable management of the disease.

Born on October 12, 1980, she also founder of Hope for cancer Foundation and was affiliated to global and local cancer associations.

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Olympian Agnes Tirop dies at age 25 – The Maravi Post

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Kenyan runner Agnes Tirop, a two-time world championships bronze medalist, has died.

The country’s track federation announced on Wednesday.

The 25 year old athlete been found dead at her home in Iten in western kenya a town renowned as a training base for distance runners.

Athletics Kenya said it was still working to uncover details of the incident but it had been informed of Tirop’s death

The federation said Kenya has lost a jewel.

“This is my friend who has left us under unclear circumstances. We have not yet accepted that it is Tirop whom we prayed for every day with so much hope to do mighty and good things for Kenya, and now she has been finished like that, we are not happy.”

According to Kenyan media reports, she was found with stab wounds in her abdomen. Kenyan police say they have initiated investigations into the matter.

Head of the local police, Tom Makori, said it appeared that the athlete’s husband had called his parents, crying.

“There are revelations which came from her husband’s family indicating that the husband had called his parents crying. He was explaining to them that may God forgive him because there is something he has done.”

Tirop won bronze medals in the women’s 10,000 meters at the 2017 and 2019 world championships and finished fourth in the 5,000 meters at the Tokyo Olympics.

Last month, Tirop broke the world record in the women-only 10-kilometer road race.

Her career took off when she won the world cross-country title in 2015 at the age of 19 to become the second youngest champion ever.

Source: Africanews

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WHO establishes new scientific group to study COVID origins, prevent future pandemics – The Maravi Post

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The proposed members of the WHO Scientific Advisory Group for the Origins of Novel Pathogens (SAGO) were selected for their expertise in areas such as epidemiology, animal health, clinical medicine, virology and genomics.  

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the news during his regular briefing from Geneva. 

“SAGO will advise WHO on the development of a global framework to define and guide studies into the origins of emerging and re-emerging pathogens with epidemic and pandemic potential, including SARS-CoV-2,” he said. 

“The emergence of new viruses with the potential to spark epidemics and pandemics is a fact of nature, and while SARS-CoV-2 is the latest such virus, it will not be the last.” 

Next ‘Disease X’ 

The 26 scientists come from several countries, and were selected from over 700 applications following a global call. 

A two-week public consultation period will take place for WHO to receive feedback on the proposed SAGO members. 

Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO Technical Lead on COVID-19, said the world must be better prepared for any future “Disease X”. 

Responding to a journalist’s question, she anticipated that SAGO will recommend further studies in China, and potentially elsewhere, to understand the origins of the new coronavirus

While SAGO will advise WHO, any future missions will be organized by the UN agency and the country in question. 

“I want to make it very clear that the SAGO is not the next mission team. There’s been some misrepresentation about that going forward,” she said.

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