On March 8, International Women's Day, the hue and cry for gender equity and a better life for girls and women galvanizes around the theme, "Empowering Women --Empowering Humanity: Picture It!" with the United Nations aiming to "mobilize all people to do their part." When it comes to mobilizing for change, no one moves more nimbly and purposefully than the American nonprofits that first pictured today's global breast cancer awareness movement.
I stepped into this charitable world more than 30 years ago with a promise to my dying sister to end breast cancer. I had no idea how even to begin to create such a change. Over the years, by listening to other women's stories and connecting their power and passion with the larger community, we built Susan G. Komen into the world's largest nonprofit source of funding in the fight against breast cancer. As we grew, the nonprofit sector as a whole became an extraordinary force for transformation. Democratization of good ignited a passionate civic evolution. Now is not the time to let that evolution slow.
The future I see for empowering humanity this International Women's Day is reflected in the faces of three young mothers with late-stage breast cancer whom I met not long ago in Tanzania's Ocean Road Cancer Institute. They had overcome great barriers of stigma, transportation and cost -- only to arrive at the clinic in advanced stages of the disease and too late. Today, we are expanding education about breast cancer in Tanzania thanks to the clarion voices of a generation of women and their families who lived and fought the disease.
In its first year alone, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon screened 27,000 women, identified 5,000 pre-cancerous lesions and referred more than half of those for diagnosis and treatment. Yet, in Tanzania and much of Sub-Saharan Africa, more than 90 percent of women who finally seek treatment are diagnosed in late stages and are unlikely to survive the disease. This is not the time to be satisfied with early achievements.
We must picture a world where bold, groundbreaking scientific research moves quickly from bench to bedside to provide better treatment options for women with advanced cancer and metastatic disease. Where we find gaps in research and treatment, we must work harder to fill them.
Today's ever-constricting budgets at the National Institutes of Health and other government funders tend to favor established laboratories, leaving so much promising research unfunded. The average age of an NIH researcher has risen from 39 to 51 since 1982. This is why Susan G. Komen devoted half of its 2014 funding to early career researchers, with a goal to increase that funding by 30 percent in 2015, while continuing to fund the work of well-known scientists and labs. Now is not the time to leave our brightest, young scientific minds struggling for support.
This International Women's Day, I dare you to join with me in thinking big, in picturing a world where all women have access to the health care education and services they need. Together, we must dare to find and fund innovative, game-changing scientific research that makes life-saving treatments a reality for women in every corner of the world, and we must dare to envision bold, new global nonprofit collaborations -- across sectors and among former competitors -- to ensure that women everywhere are empowered in the fight against breast cancer.
The faces of those three young mothers in Tanzania and the motherless children of our own here at home are the reason we fight for a world without breast cancer. Picture it. I dare you.
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