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On the 5th Anniversary of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, A Look Back at How it All Began

Article by Crystal Cazier October 27, 2016 //   5 minute read

This fall marks the 5th anniversary of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a partnership that leads coordinated action to save women’s lives from cancer. The organization has made great strides in fighting women’s cancers, working to provide prevention, screening and treatment services to women in Botswana, Tanzania, Zambia, Ethiopia, and Namibia. But what is now a global partnership was once just a simple idea.

While traveling in Tanzania with President Bush in 2008, founder of Susan G. Komen® Ambassador Nancy Brinker wondered aloud if there could be an initiative similar to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to provide a response to breast cancer.  After their time in the White House, President and Mrs. Bush explored ‎possible global health efforts that would appropriately leverage the impact of PEPFAR.

PEPFAR was effectively addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but women were surviving HIV only to die of cervical cancer.  To intervene and reverse this unfortunate reality, the concept of a public-private partnership to address both cervical and breast cancer was conceived.  

The Bush Institute’s inaugural Global Health fellow, Ambassador Mark Dybul, a founding architect of PEPFAR and the Global AIDS Coordinator from 2006 to 2009, sketched out the program design along with Ambassador Brinker and others.  Then, with the encouragement of President and Mrs. Bush, Ambassador Dybul arranged a meeting with Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and Ambassador Brinker in Mr. Sidebé’s office in Geneva.

At this meeting, the name Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon was formed:  pink for breast cancer awareness, and red for AIDS.  The U.S. Government, through PEPFAR, was added to the founding members, and other U.S. Government agencies, private-sector partners, non-government organizations and corporate foundations were engaged. The partnership was born. 

In September 2011, at the Summit to Save Lives in Washington, D.C., President Bush, joined by representatives of the four founding members, announced the launch of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, a global partnership to catalyze efforts of diverse, multisector partners to reduce deaths from cervical and breast cancer in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.

Many women who seek AIDS services also face the challenge of cancer. It’s not enough to save a woman from AIDS, if she is then left to die of another very preventable disease

President George W. Bush

Over five years, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon has continued to build on PEPFAR’s platform to fight women’s cancers in sub-Saharan Africa.  Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon works with its partners to provide cancer care services, as well as advocate for a unified response to cancer control globally, and in the current countries where the partnership engages.

Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is collaborating with national governments to strengthen healthcare systems and policy to ensure more women receive life-saving services.  Because of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon, in the past five years:

  • More than 316,000 women have been screened for cervical cancer
  • Over 15,000 have been screened for breast cancer
  • More than 119,000 girls have been vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), to prevent them from developing cervical cancer as adults

While the results are impressive, there is much more work to be done.

Just this week, President and Mrs. Bush welcomed the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Steering Committee to the Bush Center for the group’s bi-annual meeting.  Members discussed the successes of the partnership, established as its own non-profit organization affiliated with the Bush Institute last year, and looked at opportunities in the years ahead.

President Bush underscored the importance and moral obligation of the U.S. to impact human suffering globally, a cornerstone of the global health agenda begun during his Administration, and one that continues at the Bush Institute through the work of Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon.

Even though cervical and breast cancer remain the two common-most cancer killers of women worldwide, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon is at the forefront of efforts to combat women’s cancers.  With the support of partners, the scale up and sustainability of programs, and the cooperation and encouragement of countries to take ownership, Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon can help ensure that more women are able to lead long, healthy, productive lives – a simple idea turned reality.