April 16, 2007

Black Women Of Faith And Medicine: Working Together To Eradicate Cervical Cancer

100% Preventable. Spread the Word. Save a Sister. This is the new public education campaign message from the Balm In Gilead's 2007 ISIS Project (Intimate Sessions for Informed Sexuality). National Spokesperson Estelle H. Whitney, MD; Anafidelia Tavares, MD, MPH along with 20 African-American female clinicians came together at a press conference today at the Four Seasons Hotel to support the campaign and to announce the Balm In Gilead's new component of the ISIS Project: Black Women of Faith and Medicine: Working Together to Eradicate Cervical Cancer. The Balm In Gilead also announced its new public education program for this year's ISIS Project, the goal of which is to inform and educate African-American women about cervical cancer and to encourage them to take the HPV test and to become knowledgeable about the HPV vaccine. The ISIS Project encourages African-American women between the ages of 30 and 70 years old to become empowered to safeguard their health by learning about HPV, cervical cancer and the need for regular screening with the Pap test and HPV test.

The medical data speaks for itself:

-- African-American women are at least 50% more likely to die from cervical cancer than white women.

-- Cervical cancer is caused by persistent infection with an extremely common and contagious virus, the human papillomavirus (HPV); although there are approximately 15 cancer-causing HPV types, types 16 and 18 are responsible for 70% of all cervical cancers worldwide.

-- Many women are not aware that cervical cancer is preventable and that new technologies like the HPV test are an important weapon in the fight against cervical cancer.

-- African-American women are not aware of the vaccine against the disease that is available for women under 26 years of age.

-- Almost one third of all women in the U.S. had no health insurance in 2005, and some cannot pay for routine screenings like Pap tests or the HPV test or the now available vaccine.

-- New technologies including HPV testing for screening women and HPV vaccination for girls offer new opportunities to prevent cervical cancer among African-American women.

The ISIS Project was initially launched in March 2005 with the partnership of the women's societies of three major African-American religious denominations (African Methodist Episcopal, African Methodist Episcopal Zion, and Christian Methodist Episcopal) with a potential reach of 7 million African-Americans. "The addition of the expertise of African American female clinicians to the ISIS Project makes it a complete program that targets the heart and soul of Black women across our nation," states Pernessa Seele, Founder/CEO of the Balm In Gilead. She further states, "Due to the centrality of the church in African-American life, this program will be able to reach those who frequently under use cancer screening services and the underinsured."

Ten markets across the country will benefit from educational training program on cervical cancer -- The District of Columbia, Miami, Houston, Montgomery, Oakland, Chicago, Greensboro, St. Louis, Greenville and Pittsburgh.

Estelle H. Whitney, MD specializes in Obstetrics & Gynecology in Newark, Delaware. She is a graduate of the Howard University School of Medicine. Anafidelia Tavares, MD, MPH is Director of Women's Health at the Balm In Gilead, where she oversees the ISIS Project. She received her medical degree at the Boston University School of Medicine and completed a Masters of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The ISIS Project will employ a peer educator strategy in each city. Drs. Whitney and Tavares will conduct 2-day training sessions with 15 women recruited to become peer educators per market. These trainees will become Balm In Gilead Certified Cervical Cancer Peer Educators. After the training sessions, the peer educators will go into the community and deliver five educational sessions within a six month period. These sessions will include information on HPV and cervical cancer, screenings and available vaccines, and how to discuss these issues with health care professionals (role playing scenarios will be used). Grass roots marketing materials (church event listings, flyers, pamphlets and other handouts) will be utilized to solicit community participants to attend the sessions.

In addition, the 20 African-American clinicians will serve as expert media spokespersons in their respective markets regarding the overall medical issues of cervical cancer.

With the launch of the ISIS project in 2005, the Balm In Gilead is dedicated to educating women about cervical cancer and empowering them to get their annual Pap test and HPV test if they are over 30 years of age. The campaign also wants women to become knowledgeable about the vaccine.

The Balm In Gilead is a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization whose mission is to improve the health status of people of the African Diaspora by building the capacity of faith communities to address life- threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.

Over the past 18 years, The Balm In Gilead has earned worldwide recognition as the leading organization in the United States dedicated to empowering and mobilizing faith institutions to address life-threatening diseases, especially HIV/AIDS within the African-American community and on the continent of Africa.

For additional information about the Balm In Gilead, visit our website at http://www.balmingilead.org.

Support for the ISIS Project is made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from Digene and Merck Corporations.

The ISIS Project

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