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Tackling women’s cancers at the WHO: a Q & A with Dr. Ginsburg

November 2015

Dr. Ophira GinsburgIn October 2015, Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, scientist at Women’s College Research Institute, set out on an exciting new adventure to the World Health Organization (WHO) to build policy and programming for women's cancers. She is now stationed in Geneva, Switzerland, in the WHO’s Department for the Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention, for a one-year term. We caught up with her just before her departure to ask about her upcoming work there.

Tell us about your new role at the WHO.

I will be a technical officer in the non-communicable disease management unit. My role will include building programs, policy and guidance for care providers and ministries of health to help tackle the problem of breast and cervical cancer globally. This means I am taking a one-year leave of absence from Women’s College Research Institute.

What attracted you to this opportunity at the WHO?

My work focuses on global cancer control, particularly for women, because I see this as an example of a social injustice. Nine in 10 women who die of cervical cancer live in developing countries or low- and middle-income countries. And although breast cancer remains more common in women in high-income countries like Canada, most women who die from this disease live in the poorer countries of the world.

Much of what I have been working on in the last 10 or so years aligns very closely with the work I will be doing with the WHO.  My research and advocacy to date has focused on breast cancer, particularly in low-income countries like Vietnam and Bangladesh, where there are particular challenges and opportunities in terms of advancing cancer control and women’s health equity. For instance, in some countries, women have rights and are certainly represented in government, but they still lag behind when it comes to women being able to make decisions for themselves in the home. Often this means that they delay healthcare seeking. My international work leads to some of the work I do here in Canada with immigrant and newcomer women and those from ethno-cultural minority groups who may have some of the same mindsets and experiences.

What are you most excited about for your new role at the WHO?

I’m excited for the opportunity to work with others who have tremendous experience in the area of global health and non-communicable disease management, as well as women’s health and women’s rights, across different sectors and various United Nations (UN) agencies. We’ll also be able to work with partners who are involved in global cancer outside of the UN. Cancer in women is a really neglected area in global health, and I think the timing is right and there’s momentum building to try to tackle this grand challenge.

How do you hope to make an impact through this work?

Of course I’m just one person and no one can do these things alone, but as a part of a really solid team at WHO, I hope to make a contribution that has lasting impact for women. I think women’s health is incredibly important to alleviating poverty. Building health systems can also help bring economic benefits to countries where they need it the most. It is my hope that work I will be involved in will contribute to saving lives for women and preventing cancer for girls in the future around the globe.

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