First Lady Jill Biden hosts Cancer Moonshot forum with African first ladies

Dr. Biden, along with Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, welcomed 21 spouses of African leaders to discuss shared interests in combating cancer.

Loading the player...

Downtown Washington, D.C., is snarled by blockages and traffic this week due to the days-long US-Africa Summit. High-level meetings between African leaders and Biden-Harris administration officials seek to build on partnerships to address key global objectives like national security, food security, climate change, trade and health.

On Wednesday, the topic of global cancer prevention and treatment was front and center as First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, joined by Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, hosted 21 spouses to the presidents of sub-Saharan African nations at The REACH, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. First Lady Jill Biden and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff arrive to an event celebrating the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on the South Lawn of the White House on September 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. H.R. 5376, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 was passed by the House and Senate and later signed by Biden in August. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

At the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit event, Dr. Biden announced new actions by the White House’s Cancer Moonshot initiative to reduce the “cancer burden” in Africa, including approximately $300 million of funding from the U.S. government and its private-sector partners.

Dr. Biden, who has made the fight against cancer a pillar of her work as first lady, shared that when her husband, President Joe Biden, was elected to office, “I made a promise to myself that I would never waste this platform.” 

She added, “I wanted to use it to shine a light on issues that I’ve worked on for many years … and I saw how our country needed healing in so many ways.”

As the first lady noted to her fellow first ladies across the African continent, “As spouses, we serve the people of our countries, too.”

The African first ladies in attendance included: Cameroon, Ghana, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, and Madagascar, among others. Each first lady who gave remarks shared insight about the work their respective nations are doing to prevent cancer and other diseases and infections, like HPV, as well as educating their constituents on matters of public health.

First Lady of the Republic of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-addo, with US First Lady Jill Biden (L), speaks at a spousal program as part of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit at the REACH at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC on December 14, 2022. – The First Lady will convene over 20 spouses for a conversation on breaking down barriers to cancer prevention, early detection, and care for young women and girls around the world. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Dr. Melissa Clarke Bruce, an emergency physician and CEO of the BHE Group, sees these latest efforts by the Biden administration as a positive step forward in addressing the health challenges in Africa. She tells theGrio as the world has become more “westernized,” there is a “rise in cancer due to diet and environmental toxins.”

She explained, “both of those give rise to the higher rates of cancer. It is no surprise that cancer is the leading cause of death, and heart disease close behind it, on the continent.”

At the Kennedy Center rooftop event, one example of such toxins that are a concern for African women is sanitary pads that are marketed and used on the continent. Kalkidan Tadesse, who gave remarks before introducing Dr. Biden, noted that the widely used pads are made of plastic and other toxic materials. Tadesse, a former member of USAID’s Young African Leaders Initiative, and her sister created a business that makes toxic and plastic-free pads in an effort to reduce the harm.

The Organization of African First Ladies for Development (OAFLAD) has prioritized the issue of cancer and improving women’s and children’s health. The White House is responding to the call from the African first ladies on more effective measures to fight cancer, including the use of innovative technologies for cancer screening, diagnoses, treatment, and palliative care.

Some of the African first ladies shared major hurdles their nations face in spreading public health awareness, not being able to catch diseases in their early stages, and a lack of hospitals or facilities due to many of their constituents living in rural areas. 

First lady of the Republic of Namibia, Monica Geingo, with US First Lady Jill Biden (L), speaks at a spousal program as part of the US-Africa Leaders’ Summit at the REACH at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington, DC on December 14, 2022. – The First Lady will convene over 20 spouses for a conversation on breaking down barriers to cancer prevention, early detection, and care for young women and girls around the world. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the Biden White House, non-communicable diseases like cancer are now estimated to lead to all causes of death across the African continent. A new Lancet Oncology commission for sub-Saharan Africa estimates more than one million cancer deaths will occur per year in those countries by 2040. 

Understanding the impact of these deadly statistics, the Biden administration funding is expected to include efforts to strengthen national public health infrastructure and build resilient health care systems.

The international community also heard the call for action and is responding in kind. The World Health Organization, along with large international cancer organizations, is also focused on eliminating cervical cancer and decreasing the impact of childhood and breast cancers. 

The fight against cancer is personal for the Bidens, as the first lady highlighted in her Wednesday remarks. “Like the Biden family, I think I probably know that each and every one of your families have been touched by cancer in some way,” she said.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks as first lady Jill Biden looks on before signing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on June 25, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

In 2016, former President Barack Obama placed then-Vice President Biden in charge of the White House’s initiative to cure cancer after the death of Biden’s son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer. As vice president, Biden led the Cancer Moonshot with the mission to accelerate the rate of progress against cancer.

Now, President Biden and Dr. Biden have reignited the Cancer Moonshot and set new national goals of cutting the death rate from cancer by at least 50% over the next 25 years and improving the experience of people and their families living with and surviving cancer.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today! 

Share: