WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus today appointed the Lacks family as WHO Goodwill Ambassadors for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. The nomination recognizes their efforts to advocate for cervical cancer prevention and to preserve the memory of Henrietta Lacks, who died of cervical cancer in 1951.
The story of Henrietta Lacks is one of injustice, with the vast contribution she made to science hidden from the world for many years. As she sought treatment for her cancer, researchers took biopsies from her body without her knowledge or consent. The cells they removed, known as HeLa cells, went on to become the first “immortal” cell line, meaning they were the only cells that continued to live outside the human body and reply.
Since the procedure was undertaken, these HeLa cells have contributed to countless medical breakthroughs, including the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, as well as COVID-19 research.
“Much like the injustice of Henrietta Lacks’ story, women around the world from racial and minority ethnic groups face disproportionately higher risks of cervical cancer,” said Dr. Tedros. “WHO’s goal is to eliminate cervical cancer, which means innovations created with Henrietta Lacks’ cells must be made available to all women and girls equitably. . We look forward to working with the Lacks family to raise awareness of cervical cancer and advance racial equity in health and science.
The family, represented by Henrietta Lacks’ son, Lawrence Lacks, Sr., and granddaughters, Victoria Baptiste and Veronica Robinson; and Alfred Lacks Carter, Jr., Henrietta Lacks’ grandson, accepted the nomination at the World Health Summit in Berlin, during a session titled “A Next Era for Women’s Cancer Control.”
On behalf of the Lacks family, Alfred Lacks Carter, Jr. said, “Today I humbly accept this honor to serve as a WHO Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer in womb in my mother’s mind – Deborah Lacks, who lost her mother, Henrietta, to cervical cancer, and worked to ensure the world recognized her impact. Hennie lives in us, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with WHO, patients, survivors and families around the world to ensure that no other wife, mother or sister dies needlessly from cervical cancer. ‘uterus.”
The appointment of the Lacks family as WHO Goodwill Ambassadors for the elimination of cervical cancer gives impetus to the global strategy to eliminate cervical cancer, launched by WHO in 2020. This global effort represents the first time that WHO member states have collectively committed to eliminating cancer. .
The strategy lists three goals that countries should achieve by 2030: First, 90% of eligible girls must be fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine. Second, 70% of women should be screened using a high performance test. And third, 90% of women with pre-cancer should have access to treatment and 90% of women with invasive cancer should receive appropriate care, including access to palliative care.
Currently, a woman dies of cervical cancer every two minutes. Almost 90% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries due to insufficient access to cancer prevention, diagnosis and care. In all geographies, women from marginalized communities are disproportionately affected.
The Lacks family joins other WHO ambassadors, including Ivorian footballer Didier Drogba, Brazilian world champion footballer Alisson Becker, Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and three-term New York City mayor Cynthia Germanotta , President of Born This Way. Foundation and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
The post of Ambassador follows the award of a special posthumous award to Henrietta Lacks by the WHO Director-General, bestowed on her family on her behalf in 2021. It reflects WHO’s continued commitment to the active participation of people affected by cervical cancer as a central part of the elimination effort.
About Henrietta Lacks
As a young mother, Henrietta Lacks and her husband were raising five children near Baltimore when she fell ill. She went to Johns Hopkins after suffering severe vaginal bleeding and being diagnosed with cervical cancer. Despite treatment, it cut short her life on October 4, 1951. She was only 31 years old.
During treatment, researchers took samples of her tumor. This “HeLa” cell line has become a scientific breakthrough: the first immortal line of human cells to divide indefinitely in the laboratory. The cells were mass-produced, for profit, without acknowledgment to his family. Over 50 million metric tons of HeLa cells have been distributed worldwide.
In addition to the HPV vaccine, HeLa cells have enabled the development of the poliomyelitis vaccine; medicines for HIV, haemophilia, leukemia and Parkinson’s disease; breakthroughs in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization; research on chromosomal diseases, cancer, genetic mapping and precision medicine; and are being used in studies responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawrence Lacks, Mrs Lacks’ 87-year-old son, is one of the last living relatives to have known her personally. Mr. Lacks shares this honor with his granddaughters Victoria Baptiste and Veronica Robinson, and his nephew Alfred Lacks Carter, Jr.
Lacks Family Quotes
Lawrence Lacks, Sr.
Son of Henrietta Lacks
“Thank you to the World Health Organization for the honor of appointing us WHO Goodwill Ambassadors for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. I am honored to join my granddaughters Victoria and Veronica and to my nephew Alfred for accepting this pledge in honor of my mother, Henrietta Lacks I would like to thank Dr Tedros, Dr Nono and WHO for recognizing all the good my mother has done for the world.”
Victoria Baptiste, BSN, RN
Absence of family descendant
“As a registered nurse, I am deeply moved to accept this honor today to serve as the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer. We know that cervical cancer can be prevented and treated if caught early – that’s why I remain committed to this mission in honor of Henrietta Lacks, who helped make these breakthroughs possible. Together, we can end cervical cancer by educating, empowering and mobilizing patient advocates, healthcare providers, clinicians, researchers, community leaders and policy makers to increase prevention, testing and treatment worldwide.”
Absence of family descendant
“As a Patient Advocate, I am dedicated to working with WHO to advance the Global Strategy to Eliminate Cervical Cancer and I am grateful for the opportunity to serve as an Ambassador of Good From our home in Baltimore, Maryland, to communities around the world, we are committed to taking action to end cervical cancer disparities. Henrietta’s HeLa cells have contributed to lifesaving innovations like as the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer treatment.As advocates, we call on world leaders, policy makers and civil society organizations to honor his legacy by providing equal access to the education, screening, vaccination and treatment of cervical cancer for all people.”