On 13 October 2021 Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), will welcome the Lacks Family for a special dialogue at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
The event will be broadcast live on this page and include the presentation of a special posthumous award to Henrietta Lacks, acknowledging her legacy and her world-changing contribution to medical science.
Speakers will include:
- Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General
- Lawrence Lacks, Henrietta Lacks’ son
- Victoria Baptiste, Henrietta Lacks’ great granddaughter
- Professor Senait Fisseha, Co-Chair, Director-General’s Expert Group on Cervical Cancer Elimination
- Professor Groesbeck Parham, Co-Chair, Director-General’s Expert Group on Cervical Cancer Elimination
- Dr Princess Nothemba (Nono) Simelela, Assistant Director-General and Special Advisor for Strategic Priorities at WHO.
- Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO’s Chief Scientist
About Henrietta Lacks
Henrietta Lacks, a Black American woman and a young mother, died from cervical cancer on October 4, 1951—just eight months after her cancer diagnosis. She was 31 years old. Although her life was cut short, her legacy lives on through an “immortal” line of cells, known as HeLa cells.
During her treatment, researchers took samples of Mrs. Lacks’ tumour without her knowledge or consent. For two decades, Mrs. Lacks’ cells were commercialized and distributed across the globe unknown to her family.
Contributing to nearly 75 000 studies, Henrietta Lacks’ cells have paved the way for advancements from HPV and polio vaccines to medications for HIV/AIDS and breakthroughs including in vitro fertilization. In addition, HeLa cells are currently used in vital research for COVID-19 response efforts.
Equity and health: An enduring legacy
In recognizing Henrietta Lacks’ enduring legacy, WHO acknowledges her story—one of inequity—and looks forward to collectively rectifying unjust disparities in global health.
Last year as the Lacks family marked the 100th anniversary of Henrietta Lacks’ birth, WHO launched a historic campaign to eliminate the very disease which claimed her life. For the first time, the world committed to eliminating a cancer under the guidance of WHO’s Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer. Joining this global movement, the Lacks Family continues to advocate for equitable access to the HPV vaccine, a life-saving tool that protects against cervical cancer but remains inaccessible to girls in some of the poorest and most heavily burdened countries.
As the Lacks family carries forth their grandmother’s remarkable contributions to the world, join us in honouring the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.