What Preventable Killer Disease is This Pharma Foundation Fighting in Tanzania?

Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation (BMS) President John Damonti calls the higher-than-average death rate of Tanzanian women suffering from cervical cancer "tragic." And it is, standing as yet one more example of how peopleand especially womenin developing countries often die of illnesses that could be easily licked with proper healthcare, or avoided at the outset through basic prevention. We've written before about how more foundations working in developing countries are zeroing in on familiar health challenges—including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer—that are more treatable in rich countries.

BMS is making a considerable commitment to improving the cervical cancer survival odds for the women of Tanzania. The Foundation is leveraging the existing HIV/AIDS healthcare infrastructure that it has built alongside its African partners through its Secure the Future initiative, and parlaying that into capacity-building efforts addressing the prevention and early detection of cervical cancer in rural communities in Tanzania.

Related: The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation Has Been in the AIDS Fight for 15 Years. And Still Does Things Differently

BMS awarded Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon a $1.2 million grant over three years to support its cervical cancer work in Tanzania. Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon—which is affiliated with the George W. Bush Institute—is distributing its BMS grant money to four organizations: 

  • Mbeya HIV/AIDS network is using its BMS funds to raise awareness about cancer screening, treatment, and prevention services related to cervical and breast cancer.
  • Medical Women’s Association of Tanzania is using its grant funds for the expansion of its cervical and breast cancer screening campaigns to 12 regions across the country. The organization is also advocating for increased government support for prevention and early detection services involving both types of cancer.
  • Tanzania Youth Alliance is diverting its BMS grant money to a national cervical cancer helpline in five districts within the Mwanza region.
  • Tanzania Marketing and Communications is committing its grant money to expanding its current Secure the Future program to include increasing public awareness about cervical cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. This work is being conducted in the Kilolo and Mufindi districts. 

Cervical cancer is one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers across East African nations—coming in second only to breast cancer. Tanzania is among a handful of East African countries that have the highest prevalence of cervical cancer, mainly due to the spread of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Of all the different types of cancer, cervical cancer is among the most treatable. Unfortunately, Tanzania’s healthcare centers widely lack basic screening tools such as the Pap test, for the early detection of pre-cancerous and cancerous cell growth.

While organizations like GAVI are funding HPV vaccine campaigns across multiple African nations, the vaccine is administered to girls and women who are between 11 and 26 years old. Given the relatively low age cut-off, education and early detection are among the most effective measures for improving health outcomes related to cervical cancer.