The chief of the World Well being Group has honored the late Henrietta Lacks, an American lady whose most cancers cells ended up offering the inspiration for huge scientific breakthroughs, together with analysis concerning the coronavirus
“What occurred to Henrietta was mistaken,” Tedros stated throughout a particular ceremony at WHO Geneva headquarters earlier than handing the Director-Normal’s Award for Henrietta Lacks to her 87-year-old son Lawrence Lacks as a number of of her different descendants regarded on.
Tedros famous that Lacks lived at a time when racial discrimination was authorized in america and that it stays widespread, even when now not authorized in most international locations.
“Henrietta Lacks was exploited. She is one in every of many ladies of coloration whose our bodies have been misused by science,” he stated. “She positioned her belief within the well being system so she might obtain therapy. However the system took one thing from her with out her information or consent.”
“The medical applied sciences that have been developed from this injustice have been used to perpetuate additional injustice as a result of they haven’t been shared equitably all over the world,” Tedros added.
The HeLa cell line — a reputation derived from the primary two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and final names — was a scientific breakthrough. Tedros stated the cells have been “foundational” within the growth of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines, which might get rid of the most cancers that took her life.
As of final yr, WHO stated, lower than 25% of the world’s low-income international locations and fewer than 30% of lower-middle-income international locations had entry to HPV vaccines by way of nationwide immunization packages, in comparison with over 85% of high-income international locations.
“Many individuals have benefited from these cells. Fortunes have been made. Science has superior. Nobel Prizes have been received, and most significantly, many lives have been saved,” Tedros stated. “Little doubt Henrietta would have been happy that her struggling has saved others. However the finish doesn’t justify the means.”
WHO stated greater than 50 million metric tonnes (55 million tons) of HeLa cells have been distributed all over the world and utilized in greater than 75,000 research.
Final week, Lacks’ property sued a U.S. biotechnology firm, accusing it of promoting cells that medical doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital took from her with out her information or consent as a part of “a racially unjust medical system.”
“We stand in solidarity with marginalized sufferers and communities everywhere in the world who should not consulted, engaged or empowered in their very own care,” Tedros stated.
“We’re agency that in medication and in science, Black lives matter,” he added. “Henrietta Lacks’ life mattered — and nonetheless issues. Immediately can be a possibility to acknowledge these ladies of coloration who’ve made unbelievable however usually unseen contributions to medical science.”