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With the help of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, fighting cancer in Africa

Posted by On September 12, 2016

(This piece by PRRR partner MD Anderson originally appeared on Sep. 9, 2016 at cancerfrontline.org.) 

A program designed to reduce cervical- and breast-cancer deaths among women in developing countries is celebrating its fifth anniversary this month.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is an independent affiliate of the George W. Bush Institute, and an extension of President Bush’s effort to fight AIDS with his PEPFAR (U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program during his presidency.

After leaving the White House, President Bush looked for ways to extend his AIDS-fighting initiative to the cancer field. The result was Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, with “pink” denoting cancer and “red” symbolizing AIDS. The program is active in five African countries so far. By the end of 2016, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon plans to be operational in Peru, its first country in Latin America.

“The global health community has made significant progress in reducing the number of deaths from HIV and AIDS in Africa. That progress provides an opportunity to address two other leading killers of women in developing countries — cervical and breast cancer,” says Oliver Bogler, Ph.D., senior vice president for Academic Affairs and vice president for Global Academic Programs at MD Anderson.

Every year cervical cancer kills an average of 275,000 women, and more than 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, the incidence of cervical cancer and breast cancer is no higher than in other parts of the world, but the risk of death among women with either disease is much higher than in high-income countries — eight times higher in the case of cervical cancer.

“African women face enormous barriers to treatment due to a lack of funding, resources and infrastructure,” says Bogler. “To reduce deaths, access to preventive care, screenings and treatment will need to be facilitated. Partnerships will be essential to mounting an effective response.”

To contribute to this effort, MD Anderson’s Global Academic Programs office launched its Africa Initiative in 2012. Supported by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, the initiative’s role is to explore opportunities for collaborations in Africa that will improve cancer care throughout the continent. A multi-disciplinary “Africa Committee,” made up of MD Anderson faculty, provides guidance and plans activities to educate and train health care professionals in Africa.

“Our Africa work is built on multiple partnerships,” says Bogler, “with Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon playing a key role in guiding our direction. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has deep expertise in working in Africa on complex health issues in coordination with the ministries of health and local hospitals, and they have greatly accelerated and amplified our engagement with the cancer challenge there.”

MD Anderson is also involving its sister institutions, all premier cancer programs in locations around the world, who offer unique opportunities through their diversity in language, culture, socio-economics and demographics to expedite cancer-care training and education in an equally diverse Africa. Key partners have come from Brazil, Norway and Israel.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon was launched in September 2011 by the Bush Institute, PEPFAR, Susan G. Komen and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Today it has more than 20 partners, including the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several pharma and biotech companies. MD Anderson is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center among Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon’s partners.