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International Women’s Day 2022

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By Dr. Abia Nzelu

March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD). It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating women’s equality.

The theme of International Women’s Day 2022, is #BreakTheBias with several missions including but not limited to celebrating women’s achievements and forging positive visibility of women.

In line with the theme and missions of IWD 2022, ↓↑GivingTide celebrates all women who have contributed in no small way, to the improvement of healthcare globally and call on all women particularly in Nigeria to enhance their visibility by joining the effort to cause positive change in the health care of all Nigerians. Indeed, there is no better way of #BreakingTheBias and improving one’s visibility than being a force for good.

This is particularly important because Nigerians now have the 7th lowest life expectancy in the whole world. Most of these needless premature deaths are due to poor healthcare infrastructure, particularly in the area of cancer care where the gap in Nigeria’s health infrastructure is most prominent. 

Each individual that dies prematurely is a loved one of a woman – her husband, her son or daughter, her parent, and so on. Therefore, Nigerian women MUST play a pivotal role in reversing the current trend, by taking a cue from the exemplary efforts made by their fellow women in other parts of the world. 

For instance, in 1884 when the very first Comprehensive Cancer Centre (CCC) was established in the USA (the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center or MSKCC, New York), a woman (Mrs. Charlotte Astor) was the prime mover. Charlotte convinced her husband (John Astor) to provide the funds for the first phase of MSKCC, by drawing his attention to the plight of female cancer patients, who were then being rejected as hopeless cases by the Women’s Hospital, New York, where she was a board member.

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Furthermore, the massive public awareness on cancer that was championed by the American Cancer Society (ACS), gained momentum through the effort of the “Women’s Field Army” (WFA). In 1936, Mrs. Marjorie Illig, a field rep of the American Cancer Society (a foremost USA charity), initiated a legion of women volunteers whose sole purpose of waging war on cancer. The WFA recruits donned khaki uniforms, complete with insignia of rank and achievement, and went out into the streets to raise funds and educate the public. 

This resulted in an increase in the number of volunteers of ACS from 15,000 in 1935, prior to the initiation of the Women’s Field Army, to about 150,000 by the end of 1938. Moreover, this extraordinary movement by the American women contributed significantly to the improved cancer survivorship both in the USA and globally. 

The last shining example to inspire women as we mark the IWD is the founding of the world’s largest stand-alone children’s cancer hospital – Children’s Cancer Hospital Egypt (CCHE), in Cairo, Egypt.  

The CCHE was spearheaded by a female paediatric oncologist, Dr. Sherif Naga, after she lost 13 of the 16 paediatric cancer patients under her care, in one day. The CCHE was built solely by donation and is sustained entirely by donation. All children who present at the CCHE are treated FREE irrespective of their race, creed, or class. 

Nigeria definitely needs a “Women’s Field Army” to champion the BIG WAR Against Cancer. Our women have risen up to the challenge to #BreakTheBias before and can do it again but this time in the area of health care. In 1929, our celebrated heroic women were involved in an uprising (the Aba Women Riot) which is seen as the first major challenge to the colonialists authority in West Africa. They forced the British authorities to drop their plans to impose a tax on the market women and to curb the power of the warrant chiefs.

↓↑GivingTide uses the opportunity of this year’s IWD to celebrate our women and once again call on everyone, collectively and individually, to commit to the effort towards improving the nation’s healthcare infrastructure. 

Dr Abia Nzelu, Executive Secretary of GivingTide International, info@givingtide.org

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