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WHO honors Henrietta Lacks, a woman whose cells have helped science

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The head of the World Health Organization praised the late Henrietta Lacks. The cancer cells of this American woman have provided the basis for vast scientific advances, including research on the coronavirus.

“What happened to Henrietta was wrong,” Tedros said at a special ceremony at WHO Geneva headquarters before giving the Henrietta Lacks Secretary’s Award to his 87-year-old son Lawrence Lux, while some of his other descendants were watching. ..

Tedros said that Lux lived in a time when racism was legal in the United States, and that even if it is no longer legal in most countries, it is still widespread.

“Henrietta Lacks has been abused. She is one of many colored women whose bodies have been abused by science,” he said. “She relied on her health care system so she could get treatment, but the system robbed her of something without her knowledge or consent.”

“The medical technology developed from this injustice has not been fairly shared around the world and has been used to perpetuate further injustice,” Tedros added.

The HeLa cell line, a name derived from the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last name, was a scientific advance. Tedros said the cells are “basic” in the development of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine and can eliminate the cancer that killed her.

As of last year, less than 25% of the world’s low-income countries and less than 30% of low- and middle-income countries have access to the HPV vaccine through their national immune programs, compared to more than 85% of high-income countries, according to the WHO. I did. Country.

“Many people have benefited from these cells. Good luck has come. Science has advanced. Nobel Prize-winning and, most importantly, many lives have been saved. “Tedros said. “There is no doubt that Henrietta was pleased that her suffering saved others, but the end does not justify the means.”

According to WHO, more than 50 million tonnes (55 million tonnes) of HeLa cells are distributed worldwide and are used in more than 75,000 studies.

Last week, Lux Real Estate announced a US biotechnology company that doctors at The Johns Hopkins Hospital sold cells taken from her without her knowledge and consent as part of a “racially unjustified medical system.” Appealed.

“We are in solidarity with marginalized patients and communities around the world who are not consulted, engaged or empowered about their care,” said Tedros. ..

“We are convinced that black life is important in medicine and science,” he added. “Henrietta Lacks’ life was important-and nevertheless. Today is also an opportunity to recognize women in colors who have made incredible, but often invisible contributions to medicine.”

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