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Bush, PEPFAR Reunite to Cut Cancer Deaths

Former President George W. Bush. U.S. government photo.

Whenever George W. Bush’s presidential legacy is discussed, the ground-breaking global HIV initiative he created is mentioned as a high point. It made the United States a major force in the global battle against the epidemic and brought him praise across sub-Saharan Africa.

Now the former president is returning to global health, hoping to build on the success of the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief — which President Obama has continued– with a push to reduce cervical and breast cancer deaths around the world.

A new public-private partnership announced Tuesday between the U.S. Department of State, the George W. Bush Institute and Susan G. Komen for the Cure, among others, will use the vast infrastructure of clinics and health workers built up by PEPFAR to extend cervical cancer treatment and breast cancer education to women in Latin America and Africa.

“Many women who seek AIDS services also face the challenge of cancer. It’s not enough to save a woman from AIDS, if she is then left to die of another very preventable disease,” President Bush said in a statement.

Cervical and breast cancer are two of the leading causes of cancer deaths among women. The program, called the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon alliance, aims to cut cervical cancer deaths among those tested by 25 percent in five years. A growing recognition of the human cost of cancers in the developing world and the need for more screening and treatment played a major part in the U.N. calling a high level meeting on non-communicable disease to be held next week in New York.

Ambassador Eric Goosby, who heads PEPFAR, told the NewsHour the program began providing cervical cancer services several years ago in seven countries after observing a high level of need for intervention. HIV-positive women are far more likely to get cervical cancer than those who are HIV-negative, making the disease particularly devastating to many of the communities where PEPFAR works.

“PEPFAR has spent the last seven years setting up medical delivery systems in resource poor settings,” Goosby said. “This partnership represents to us an opportunity to expand [our cervical cancer program] further into more countries and the countries we are in to scale up to new sites.”

PEPFAR is committing $10 million over the next five years for the cancer initiative, in addition to $20 million already pledged for existing cervical cancer activities over the same period. The alliance projects an initial commitment total of $75 million over the next five years including private company contributions from Merck, Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline, IBM and others.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure will be building the breast cancer education component of the partnership.

U.S. appropriations for global HIV funding have leveled off over the last two years, after many years of growth, so Goosby has publicly pushed finding ways for programs to work more efficiently and in coordination with other agencies doing complimentary work. Similarly, the new cancer partnership will “converge resources” from different groups doing similar work on cervical and breast cancer, he said.

Many patients who are screened and diagnosed with cervical cancer can be treated in the same visit with a liquid nitrogen procedure. More advanced cases and positive breast cancer screenings will require linking patients to longer term treatment, Goosby said.

As for the program’s goals of reducing deaths from cervical cancer by 25 percent among women screened in the initiative, Goosby said, “I’m confident it will be even higher than that.”

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