The World Health Organization (WHO) honored Henrietta Lacks In recognition of the legacy of a black woman who changed the world, her cancer cells provided the basis for life-changing medical breakthroughs, but were taken without her knowledge or consent.
Researchers took tissue from Lacks’ body when it sought treatment for cervical cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in the 1950s, to establish the so-called HeLa cells that became the first “immortal line” of human cells to divide indefinitely in the laboratory.
In the context of acknowledging Henrietta Lacks, the WHO said it wanted to address a “historical mistake,” noting that the global scientific community once concealed her race and true story.
“WHO recognizes the importance of accounting for past scientific injustices, and promoting racial equality in health and science,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “It’s also an opportunity to learn about women – especially women of color – who have made amazing but often invisible contributions to medical science.”
Lacks died of cervical cancer at just 31 in October 1951, and her eldest son, 87-year-old Lawrence Lacks, received the award from the World Health Organization at its Geneva headquarters. He was accompanied by many of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and family members.
“We were touched to receive this historic tribute to my mother, Henrietta Lacks – a tribute to what a wonderful woman she was and the lasting impact of her Hela cells. My mother’s contributions, once hidden, are now rightly honored for their global impact, Lacks said.
“My mother was a pioneer in life, giving back to her community, helping others live better lives, and taking care of 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.”
Tedros noted that blacks like Henrietta Lacks suffer from racial discrimination in health care, the problem still exists in many parts of the world today.
“Henrietta Lacks was taken advantage of. She is one of many women of color whose bodies science has misused. She put her trust in the health system so she could receive treatment. But the system took something from her without her knowledge or consent.”
The head of the World Health Organization said that women of color continue to be disproportionately affected by cervical cancer, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed persistent health inequalities affecting marginalized communities around the world. He said studies from different countries show that black women die of cervical cancer many times more than white women, while 19 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of cervical cancer are in Africa.
The HPV vaccine, which protects against a range of cancers, including cervical cancer, is now being given routinely to many girls around the world and there are hopes of eradicating the disease.
However, the WHO says that as of 2020, less than 25 percent of low-income countries and less than 30 percent of low-middle-income countries had access to an HPV vaccine as part of national immunization programmes. their own, compared to more than 85 percent of high-income countries.
“It is unacceptable that access to the life-saving HPV vaccine is shaped by your race, ethnicity, or where you were born,” said Dr.
The HPV vaccine was developed using Henrietta Lacks cells. Although the cells were taken without her consent and without her knowledge, she has left behind a legacy that could save millions of lives. We owe it to her and her family for achieving equitable access to this groundbreaking vaccine.”
Lacks, who lived near Baltimore with her husband and five children, went to Johns Hopkins after suffering severe vaginal bleeding, where she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
A HeLa cell line was developed from her tumor and the cells were mass-produced with the intention of profit without being recognized by her family which was only discovered to be used in science in the 1970s. Her life and legacy are documented in the book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Sklott, which was later made into a movie.
Earlier this month, Lax’s ownership moved to sue a drug company that used the HeLa cell line. Reuters news agency reported that the measure said the company had made a “conscious choice” to mass-produce the cells and take advantage of a “racially unfair medical system”.
More than 50,000 metric tons of HeLa cells have been distributed worldwide since they were taken from Lax, according to the World Health Organization.
In addition to HPV, the cell line has been critical in the development of the polio vaccine and drugs for HIV/AIDS, hemophilia, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease. It has also led to breakthroughs in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization, and has been used in thousands of studies, including on COVID-19.
“The fight to end cervical cancer is part of the larger fight for human rights,” said Dr. Grosbeck Parham, who was involved in the civil rights movement as a teenager in Alabama and is now a clinical expert with the WHO’s Cervical Cancer Initiative. “.
“Through her immortal cells, Mrs. Henrietta Lacks speaks to us, and also brings to our attention the millions of young women and mothers in low-income countries who continue to die of cervical cancer because they cannot access and afford life-saving medicines. Available medicines, techniques, and procedures. easily in high-income countries.The questions asked by the spirit and legacy of Mrs. Henrietta Lacks are: “Why does this situation exist?”, “What are the solutions?”, and “When will you implement them?”