The WHO honors Henrietta Lux, whose cells changed the drug
The black woman’s cancer cells have progressed from polio to HIV, but it was taken without her knowledge or consent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has honored Henrietta Lux, who recognized the world-changing legacy of a black woman whose cancer cells supported life-changing medical advances but were taken without her knowledge or consent.
In the 1950s, after seeking treatment for uterine cancer at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, researchers removed tissue from Lax’s body, establishing the so-called Hela cells, which became the first “immortal line” of human cells to be divided indefinitely in the laboratory.
Recognizing Henrietta’s shortcomings, the WHO said it wanted to eliminate the “historical mistake” that the global scientific community once hid her ethnicity and her true story.
“The WHO acknowledges past scientific injustices and promotes racial equality in health and science,” said Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebraius. “It’s an opportunity to recognize women – especially women of color – who have made incredible but often unseen contributions to medical science.”
Lax died of cervical cancer in October 1951 at the tender age of 31, and her eldest son, Lawrence Lax, 87, received the award from the WHO at its headquarters in Geneva. She was accompanied by many of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and other family members.
“We are inspired to have this historical identity of my mother, Henrietta Lux – who she was as a remarkable woman, and whose hela cells have a lasting effect. My mother’s contribution, once hidden, is now being duly honored for her global influence, ”Lax said.
“My mother was a pioneer in life, giving back to her community, helping others to live a better life and caring for others. In death she continues to help the world. Her legacy lives on in us, and we thank you for naming her – Henrietta Lax.
Tedros noted that black people like Henrietta Lakes had to face racial discrimination in healthcare, and that the problem persists in many parts of the world today.
“Henrietta’s shortcomings were exploited. She is one of the many women of color whose body has been abused by science, ”he said. “She trusted the health system so that she could get treatment. But the system took something from her without her knowledge or consent. ”
The WHO chief said women of color have been plagued by unequal cervical cancer and that the Kovid-1 pandemic epidemic has exposed health inequalities affecting marginalized communities around the world. Studies from various countries have shown that black women are dying of cervical cancer many times more than white women, while 19 of the 20 countries with the highest incidence of cervical cancer are in Africa.
The HPV vaccine, which protects against many types of cancer, including cervical cancer, is now being given regularly to many girls around the world, and the disease is expected to go away.
However, the WHO says that by 2020, less than 25 percent of low-income countries and less than 30 percent of low-middle-income countries had access to the HPV vaccine as part of their national immunization programs, a percentage of high-income countries over 85 percent.
Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simella, special adviser to Tedros, said: “It is unacceptable that the life-saving HPV vaccine was introduced to your race, ethnicity or birth.
“The HPV vaccine was developed using Henrietta Lax cells. Although the cells were taken without her consent and without her knowledge, she has left behind a legacy that could save millions of lives. We owe her and her family access to this important vaccine. ”
Living with her husband and five children near Baltimore, Johns went to Johns Hopkins after experiencing severe vaginal bleeding, where she was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
The Hela cell line was developed from her tumors and the cells were mass-produced, for profit, without knowing her family, who only knew they were used for science in the 1970s. Her life and legacy are documented in Rebecca Schlut’s book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lux, which later became a film.
Earlier this month, Lax’s estate went to sue a pharmaceutical company using the Hela cell line. According to the Reuters news agency, the company has made a “conscious choice” to produce large quantities of cells and to profit from a “racially unjust medical system”.
More than 50,000,000 metric tons of hela cells have been distributed worldwide, according to the WHO.