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ROTARY CLUB OF BIRMINGHAM AWARDED MAJOR INTERNATIONAL GRANT TO ELIMINATE CERVICAL CANCER

 

Rotary International has awarded The Rotary Club of Birmingham and its international partners a major global grant.  This almost $400,000 grant will advance the 20-year goal of eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem in Sri Lanka.  Once successful in Sri Lanka, this initiative may grow to eliminate cervical cancer in many countries.   

The key partners in this initiative are The Rotary Club of Birmingham, the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB, The Rotary Club of Colombo (Sri Lanka), the Ashok Leyland Company, and the Sri Lankan Ministry of Health.

Dr. Edward Partridge, the former director of the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and a member of the Rotary Club of Birmingham says, “It is exciting to see the potential to eliminate this cancer in Sri Lanka and beyond. As a practicing gynecologic oncologist I witnessed all too often the devastating impact of this disease on women and their families, particularly before the discovery of HPV as the cause of this cancer.”

One of the few cancers that can be prevented is cervical cancer. The scientific discovery of human papillomavirus (HPV) as the cause of cervical and other HPV-related cancers (e.g., head and neck cancer, penile, anal, vulvar cancer) changed the paradigm. Boys and girls can be protected from these cancers through HPV vaccination and adult women can be screened through HPV testing, which detects risk for cervical cancer before cancer develops. Thus, with these two simple tools the elimination of cervical cancer is no longer a vision.

To eliminate cervical cancer as a public health threat in Sri Lanka, this initiative builds on lessons learned from Rotary International’s leading role in elimination of polio worldwide. With polio, scientists developed the vaccine, the World Health Organization made it available, and then Rotary Clubs around the world began serving as the critical links to get the vaccines to the people who need them. 

“As we have seen with other diseases, like polio, having the tools is not enough. We need concerted efforts through credible organizations like Rotary to get these tools to populations who, for many reasons, do not have the ability to benefit from HPV vaccination and screening through a health care system. We need to go to them rather than wait for them to come to us”, said Dr. Isabel Scarinci, a senior leader at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rotary Club of Birmingham member, co-leader of this effort, and polio survivor.

Adds Susan Jackson, recently retired executive director of the Rotary Club of Birmingham and a co-leader of this project, “The simplicity of this effort is what makes it so appealing as it could be implemented in any setting. It has three key components: (1) committed volunteers with diverse experiences and expertise who believe in the mission, (2) financial support from Rotary International and Rotarians across the world to promote capacity-building of personnel on the ground and initial infrastructure, and (3) government support to adopt and sustain the infrastructure.”

This integrated approach is not new to Rotary International. Rotary International is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change. Rotary International works through its 35,000+ clubs to promote peace, fight disease, provide clean water, sanitation, and hygiene, save mothers and children, support education, and grow local economies.

Dr. Jon Blankenship, president of the Rotary Club of Birmingham, states, “Putting service above self is at the heart of our mission. Eliminating this public health threat is a tremendous service to the people of Sri Lanka. This would not be possible without Ms. Jackson’s leadership of bringing all these pieces together. Every program needs a quarterback.”

This project likely has implications for cancer prevention in Alabama as well.  Many communities within Alabama suffer from high rates of preventable diseases, like cervical cancer. Lessons learned in Sri Lanka may prove helpful in eliminating cervical cancer as a public health problem in our own state. 

About the Rotary Club of Birmingham and Rotary International

The Rotary Club of Birmingham, founded in 1913, is the largest in the world.  It has played a leading role in eliminating Polio worldwide, expanding access to Pre-K in Birmingham, and enhancing cancer treatment and prevention in Sri Lanka.  The Club’s centennial gift to Birmingham, the Rotary Trail, is a signature attraction downtown. 

Rotary International is a global network of 1.2 million neighbors, friends, leaders, and problem-solvers who see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change – across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves.  Solving real problems takes real commitment and vision. For more than 110 years, Rotary’s people of action have used their passion, energy, and intelligence to take action on sustainable projects. From literacy and peace to water and health, we are always working to better our world, and we stay committed to the end.