Archive for June, 2006
When someone asks me where I find the passion to write about women’s issues, I do not understand the question. To me, that question is like asking a dying man why he still fights to breathe one more breath.
No one asks why the Afro-Americans continue to fight to make their case known to the nation at large because everyone knows they feel abandoned and disenfranchised. Likewise, no one asks why the Native Americans fight for their land and their rights because everyone knows the atrocities they suffered under the early American colonization.
Each of these groups have a cause to defend and they are quite passionate about that cause. However, the cause for which each group struggles only began a short time ago compared to the millennia women have suffered some of the most atrocious indignities heaped upon any group of humans…
Oh, but they do have a shot to prevent cancer, my friend. This past week, the FDA approved a new drug that offers an outstanding rate of protection against certain types of cervical cancer if given to a young woman before she becomes sexually active.
Cervical cancer was once the leading cause of death for women in the United States until the introduction of the PAP test, which helps to detect early signs of cervical abnormalities. The American Cancer Society reported only 10,520 new cases for cervix cancer in the US in 2004, down from 13,000 cases in 2002.
For developing countries, the incident rate for cervical cancer is significantly higher because far fewer women are able to get the PAP test. The National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC) said this type of cancer is still the leading cause of death from cancer among women in developing countries.
The NCCC Website said, “At least 370,000 new cases are identified each year; 80 percent are in developing countries. Rates are highest in Central America and sub-Saharan Africa. An important reason for the sharply higher cervical cancer incidence in developing countries is the lack of effective screening programs aimed at detecting pre-cancerous conditions (dysplasia) and treating them before they progress to invasive cancer.”
It seems almost all cervical cancers are caused by a sexually transmitted microbe called human papillomavirus (HPV). In a June 11, 2006 article, Time Magazine explained it like this, “Most of the time, a woman’s body can deal with an HPV infection without any trouble–which is a good thing since a majority of sexually active women are believed to develop one at some point in their lives. In a small percentage of cases, the virus persists in the body, and in an even smaller percentage of those cases, the infection triggers a complex process that leads to cervical cancer.”
The new vaccine, being manufactured by Merck, is said to have an astounding rate of protection nearing 100 percent for the two most common cancer causing HPV strains. When given to a young woman before she becomes sexually active, this vaccine could prevent her from ever getting cervical cancer that is caused by this HPV virus. Women can still get the vaccine after being sexually active, but the rate of protection decreases.
Imagine that there is a shot that can prevent a form of cancer! This is some of the most heartening news in recent medical history. My mother died at the young age of 48 from another vicious form of cancer, which makes me all the more cautious of this deadly disease. Now it seems as if I can protect my daughters from at least one type of cancer.
However, there is a downside to this monumental medical achievement – the cost. The vaccine, which is given in a series of three shots over a six-month period, costs about US$360. For the just women of my immediate family to get this vaccine, it would cost us well over US$1,000. That is not to say our lives are not worth the money, but that the price tag is far out of reach for many around the world and even here in the US.
In developing countries, this price tag is outrageous. Although I understand these drug companies exist solely to make money, I simply cannot help but consider the fact that they could save so many lives with this drug. Yet the very ones who need this vaccine the most are the ones who stand little chance of getting it.
A discovery such as this should not be withheld from developing countries or the poor in developed countries because of something so trivial as money. It should be manufactured in mass quantities for the lowest price possible and generously distributed around the world.
If I were an executive at Merck, I would not be able to live with myself if I knew at any given minute there were thousands of women worldwide dying a slow and tortuous death simply because I cared more about the bottom line than the lives of those precious women.
Since this vaccine is newly approved by the FDA and doctors have not even started to stock up on it yet, I suppose we have no other choice but to sit back and wait to see what Merck will do. In the meantime, I am hoping the next medical breakthrough will be yet another way to make the threat of cancer a thing of the past.
A miracle happened! The Episcopal Church has elected a woman to lead its denomination. Thirty years after the Episcopal Church first allowed women to become priests, it has now become the first denomination in the Anglican Communion worldwide to have a woman serve as its leader.
I have said before that I would love to see the day when a woman is chosen to be the Pope of the Catholic Church, but I will settle for these smaller victories in the meantime. According to a June 19 article from the Washington Post, the Episcopal Church has about 2.3 million members, so Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will certainly have her work cut out for her.
It is through significant steps such as this that women will one day be on equal footing in every social, political and religious aspect of life. My hope is that my daughters will see that day.
I have been questioned as to whether I have something against the male population. This is a fair question and I suppose in all honesty my response would have to be an emphatic no – and an emphatic yes.
On the one hand, I have no problem with any man who is secure enough to acknowledge that women are intelligent and capable leaders. I am not talking about the shallow lip service doled out in complicity to avoid a tongue-lashing; I am talking about those men who truly believe women are equal to men…