As a follow-up to my last post, I was able to speak with Susan G. Komen Founder and Chair of Global Strategy Nancy Brinker today following her 19-day international trip that included participating earlier this month in the African First Ladies Summit, “Investing in Women: Strengthening Africa,” held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
The event was hosted by the George W. Bush Institute and included first ladies from throughout Africa meeting with First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush to discuss such issues as health care, education, and economic welfare.
Brinker along with her former boss, President George W. Bush (who had appointed her as both Ambassador to Hungary and Chief of Protocol at the State Department), and Laura Bush also announced that Tanzania had joined the “Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon” initiative, which uses existing health care programs to integrate cervical and breast cancer screening, treatment, and education in underserved regions.
I asked about Komen’s recent unpublicized name change from Susan G. Komen for the Cure to simply Susan G. Komen. Brinker responded that the name of the organization had always been “Susan G. Komen” and that it was possible that some affiliates were still including “for the Cure,” a phrase that she described as having become somewhat generic.
“Komen wants to stay singly focused on our mission, and a lot of time had been consumed by other things,” she said, which I took to mean that maintaining registration protection for the full name had become a distraction from the organization’s larger mission related to breast cancer itself.
Left to right: Dr. Twalib Ngoma, Director, Ocean Road Cancer Institute; Dr. Christine Kaseba, First Lady of the Republic of Zambia; Mrs. Salma Kikwete, First Lady of the United Republic of Tanzania; Mrs. Sia Nyama Koroma, First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Nancy Brinker, Founder and Chair of Global Strategy, Susan G. Komen; and Ambassador Leslie V. Rowe, U.S. Office of Global Health Diplomacy
During our phone interview, Brinker said that visiting clinics in Africa put so many things into perspective for her, including how far the United States has come in cancer care and how much could be done with available resources in less-advanced countries.
She also said how she saw the face of her late sister Susan Komen -- to whom Brinker famously promised “to do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever” when Susan was dying -- on so many African women facing death because they lack sufficient screening and early intervention.
“The best thing I could do was go over there and see the work that has to be done,” she said, adding she wished some people would spend less time and money being critical rather than jumping in and helping.
“We can level the field for this disease though prevention and early detection,” she said, noting that much had been accomplished through cancer control during the last half-century and how studying differences in cultures can lessen suffering.
She said the trip had personally reinvigorated her mission and made her understand what’s really important.
She also expressed excitement about Komen’s incoming President and CEO, Judith Salerno, MD, MS, who will be moving to Dallas in September after completing her work as Chief Executive and COO of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine:
“[In addition to her many other attributes], Judy’s background in community and public health makes her the perfect person to complement our other programs,” Brinker said.
I am still awaiting word about interviewing Salerno.