This Wednesday, the Director-General of the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanam Ghebreyasus, recognized his legacy of world change through a special award.
In 1951, when Mrs. Lax sought medical attention, researchers took a biopsy from her body without her knowledge or consent, and her cells became the first “immortal” cell line, now known as “hela cells.”
‘Reckoning’ with injustice
Surprisingly, as the WHO noted, the global scientific community once hid its race and its true story, a historical mistake that hopes to help revoke Wednesday’s recognition.
For Tedros, in honor of Mrs. Lacs, the UN agency “recognizes the importance of accounting for past scientific injustices and advancing racial equality in health and science.”
She said the award was “an opportunity to recognize women of color in particular, who have made incredible but often invisible contributions to medical science.”
The award was received at the WHO office in Geneva by Lawrence Lacs, the 87-year-old son of Mrs. Lacs.
He is one of the last surviving relatives who knows him personally. Mr. Lax was accompanied by Henrietta Lax’s grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.
Mr. Lacs said the family was inspired to gain this historic historical recognition, “honoring the extraordinary woman and the lasting impact of her hela cells”.
“My mother’s contribution, which was once hidden, is now being duly honored for their global influence,” she said.
“My mother was a pioneer in life, giving back to her community, helping others lead better lives and caring for others. Even after death, he continues to help the world. Her legacy lives on in us and we thank you for naming her – Henrietta Lacs.
According to the WHO, women of color are more likely to develop cervical cancer. The Kovid-1 pandemic epidemic has also exposed many health disparities that exist among marginalized populations worldwide.
Studies in various countries have consistently shown that black women are dying of uterine cancer at several times the rate of white women. Today, 19 of the 20 countries with the highest incidence of uterine cancer are in Africa.
Strategies for uterine cancer
Last year, which marked the 100th anniversary of Henrietta Lax’s birth, also coincided with the launch of the WHO’s global strategy to accelerate the eradication of cervical cancer, with Mrs. Lux’s family approving an initiative.
Her relatives have also joined the WHO to justify access to the HPV vaccine, which protects against a variety of cancers, including cervical cancer.
Despite being pre-qualified by the WHO 12 years ago, supply constraints and high prices still prevent girls in low- and middle-income countries from reaching adequate levels.
By 2020, less than 25% of low-income countries and less than middle0% of middle-income countries had access to the HPV vaccine through their national immunization programs, compared to 5% of high-income countries.
For Princess Nathemba Simlela, Assistant Director-General for Strategic Priorities and Special Adviser to the Director-General, “It is unacceptable that access to the life-saving HPV vaccine is based on your race, ethnicity or where you may be born.”
Recalling that the HPV vaccine was created using Henrietta lax cells, he added: “We owe it to her and her family to have fair access to this groundbreaking vaccine.”
As a young mother, Henrietta Lakes and her husband Baltimore were raising five children when she fell ill.
She visited Johns Hopkins Medical Center in the city, one of the few major hospitals serving African-Americans after experiencing massive vaginal bleeding and being diagnosed with uterine cancer. Despite treatment, he died on October 4, 1951, at the age of just 31.
During treatment, the researchers took samples of his tumor. That “Hela” cell line was a scientific breakthrough: the first immortal line of the human cell, divided indefinitely in laboratory conditions, into energy research.
The cells were mass-produced for profit without recognition to his family. 50,000,000 metric tons of Hell cells have been distributed worldwide – part of more than 75,000 studies.
In addition to the HPV and polio vaccines, they allow the development of drugs for HIV / AIDS, hemophilia, leukemia, and Parkinson’s disease; Advances in reproductive health, including in vitro fertilization; Research on chromosomal status, cancer, gene mapping and precision.
Currently, they are being used in research in response to the Kovid-1 pandemic epidemic.
After presenting the award, the family and WHO proceeded to the shores of Lake Geneva, to see the city’s iconic Jet D’u colored tile illuminated, a color that marks uterine cancer awareness.
It marks the first anniversary of the start of the global eradication campaign, the first of several world monuments to be illuminated in oil by November 17th.