Hostels for Hope: Easing the Burden for Women with Cancer

This article was originally published on on February 2, 2017.

Sarah* is a 46-year-old mother of five and a cervical cancer survivor living in Tanzania. Survival wasn’t easy. She had to travel over 300 miles from her village to one of only two treatment facilities in the entire country; once she got there, she had no place to stay. Like Sarah, many of the over 10,000 Tanzanian women diagnosed with cervical or breast cancer each year face two major challenges – how to pay for transportation to the capital, Dar es Salaam, and where to stay for the duration of their treatment. For some women, the challenge is too great and they have no choice but to stay home and die. Others, like Sarah, make the difficult trip to the hospital, and struggle to survive through the treatment. Many sleep on the hospital grounds, or on the street, while being treated.

We at Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon believe that no woman should die of cervical or breast cancer, no matter where she lives. So we decided it was time for the women of Tanzania to have “homes away from home” near the country’s only two cancer treatment centers that could save their lives. We partnered with the American Cancer Society the Bush Institute HKS, Inc ., Southern Methodist University , and T-MARC Tanzania to sponsor the Hostels for Hope competition.

downloadWe challenged professional and student architects around the world to use fresh thinking, sustainable materials, and resourceful ingenuity to design safe, comfortable lodgings for women undergoing cancer treatments. And they responded! We received nearly 100 designs, and an esteemed jury chose six winners who will be announced on World Cancer Day , February 4, in Tanzania. The top two designs will be adapted according to the needs of the hospitals, and our hope is that they will be built in the coming year. (more…)

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Americans Have Begun to Raid Retirement Savings for Current Healthcare Costs

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn


While American workers appreciate the benefits they receive at work, people are concerned about health care costs. And consumers’ collective response to rising health care costs is changing the way they use health care services and products, like prescription drugs. Furthermore, 6 in 10 U.S. health citizens rank healthcare as poor (27%) or fair (33%). (more…)

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Out of Africa

I just got back from the trip of a lifetime: an African safari. I had the good fortune to visit South Africa (both Cape Town/Cape of Good Hope and Krueger National Park) as well as the Zimbabwe side of Victoria Falls. Wow. If you have done it, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, it’s so worth it. No tigers or bears, but lions galore. And elephants and rhinos and hippos (my favorite) and monkeys and I could go on and on. Even ostriches and penguins! It’s something to behold. Of course it’s hard to go the entire trip without making Lion King references or Book of Mormon jokes.

Penguins from near Cape of Good Hope

Penguins from near Cape of Good Hope

The trip wasn’t 100% perfect in that I had a particularly fun bout of whatever the African equivalent of Montezuma’s revenge might be called (Mugabe’s revenge?). But, while inconvenient and generally nasty, it did afford me a field trip around the Zimbabwe health system. Wow, that was another sight to behold. Basically Zimbabwe has no health system. The government doesn’t fund one that meets any standard you might assume should apply (average per capita spend by the government on healthcare is about $20/per person according to those with whom I spoke – yes, you read that right). The average American probably spends as much at Starbucks every month as the Zimbabwean government spends on public health. (more…)

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Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity Task Force Holds Listening Session with Key Stakeholders

DesperateThis post by Kathryn Martin originally appeared in the HHS’s blog on June 22, 2016.

On June 10th, Secretary Burwell and Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, Michael Botticelli, hosted a listening session to engage stakeholders in a discussion about mental health and substance use disorder parity implementation. Fifteen leaders of organizations representing consumer and provider groups from the mental health and addiction fields shared their perspective and offered recommendations for how to improve awareness of and compliance with the law.

More than 170 million people have better insurance coverage for mental health and substance use disorder care thanks to new coverage and parity protections in the Affordable Care Act, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act and Medicaid/CHIP.

The President established the Task Force on Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Parity ( to build on that progress and to focus federal agencies on realizing these improvements. (more…)

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Women, Children and Water

Pat Ford Roegner

Kaiser Health Tracking Poll: February 2016 reports that 64% of Americans have closely followed the news about the lead contamination of Flint, Michigan’s water supply, its likely effects on public health in that city, and the long road ahead as Flint struggles to restore a safe water supply. The same survey found nearly eight in 10 Americans are concerned about the safety of the water in low-income communities across the U.S.

But even the challenges facing one mid-sized American city pale when we see World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 1.2 billion people worldwide lack access to clean drinking water, with an additional 2.6 billion lacking adequate sanitation services.

The United Nations estimates that by 2025, 2.8 billion people will face water scarcity in 48 countries worldwide. Closer to home, is Flint just the beginning of a water supply nightmare for low-income communities across North America?

As the news from Flint unfolded in recent weeks, I was reading a paper – of which my daughter Amber is a co-author – about the potential for natural grasses to filter the waters on Lake Victoria near Kisumu, Kenya. (more…)

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Take Your Own Advice! U.S. Should Pay More Attention to STD Prevention Programs Abroad

Julie-PotyrajMost sexually transmitted diseases are preventable. That’s one reason it’s so upsetting that one in four sexually active girls in the United States has one. Out of the 19 million new STD cases annually in the U.S., almost half are among people ages 15 to 24. And those statistics only represent the number of reported cases; many more infections go undocumented. Despite the clear need for STD prevention strategies among young people, current efforts are scattered and inconsistent across the U.S. While 23 states require sex education, only 13 states require that the information be “medically accurate.” Even when sex education is taught in schools, many states require an emphasis on abstinence. But are these abstinence-only programs really helping to reduce STDs in younger generations? Simply put, no.

Comprehensive sex education, using the example of Zambia

For elementary and middle school students at Chadiza Basic School in the Eastern Province of Zambia, every day begins with a prayer. (more…)

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  • February 1st, 2016 And Now, Zika
    By Glenna Crooks
  • Disruptive Women Heads to the White House Tomorrow

    Robin Strongin

    For Throwback Thursday we go back to our visit to the White House. This post was originally published January 7, 2016. 

    How perfect is this? Eight years after Disruptive Women launched, we were invited by HHS to collaborate on an important White House event.  We have been hard at work getting ready for the big day.  After all, it’s the White House Men’s Health Dialogue.

    DW-Men's-Health-FB-Meme-01That’s right, men’s health.  Kudos to HHS and the White House for not only recognizing and focusing on the many health-related challenges men face, but extra props for recognizing the power of women to provide expertise, solutions, and insights.  And, a big shout out to our other collaborator, the team from the Men’s Health Network.

    Disruptive Women has been immersed in many of the event’s topics: mental health, innovation, technology, community programs, engaged patients, and access to data.  And, the event provides a platform for us to brag about some of our past and future Men of the Month, all of whom will be sharing their wisdom: Ramin Bastani, e-patient Dave, Chef Bill and Jason Bellet. (more…)

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    Food, Health and Public Policy

    Meryl Bloomrosen

    I am someone who has worked for many years “inside the Beltway” (aka Washington DC), who admittedly wears the “policy wonk” hat, and was a (long distance) caregiver for elderly parents in the last years of their lives, one of whom faced eating related complications and consequences.   Because of these experiences I advocate on behalf of people who live with chronic diseases.  I appreciate more than ever how important it is to comprehensively explore issues related to public health topics such as obesity, food insecurity, food labeling, food literacy, and food shopping.  Indeed, the intersection of social factors, community, education, environment, behavior and health are prominent components of current health policy discussions and activities. [1] [2] [3]

    The prominent health policy publication, Health Affairs recently devoted its November 2015 issue to Food and Health.  However, most noticeably and disappointingly absent in the discussions about food and heath were the perspectives, values and needs of people living with the challenges of chronic, life threatening and incurable food related diseases, such as food allergies[4].  Food allergies present significant health burdens for patients and their families and caregivers. Public policies related to food and health must consider diverse patient perspectives and values based on their unique circumstances and life goals. (more…)

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    Teens and Prescription Drug Use: Do You Know When to Intervene?

    Terri Prof Headshot 0412Natalie W.* was a beautiful, vivacious 12 year old. Yes, this is a true story and yes, she was 12 – not as uncommon as you might think.  Her energy and kindness were contagious. In spite of her parents’ divorce 3 years earlier, she seemed happy during her weekend visits to her father’s house. She nurtured a kitten she found in the street and enjoyed playing with her baby brother, her half-brother from her mother’s remarriage. There were no signs that Natalie would be difficult for her parents, until the day that she didn’t come home after school and was brought to the door late that night by a police officer, intoxicated and aggressive. The first time it was pot, the second time alcohol, and when she was finally arrested, it was hydrocodone.

    Natalie’s father didn’t know how to handle her. He tried to stop her from sneaking out by putting bars on her windows. Although he considered it, he couldn’t bring himself to send her to a detoxification boot camp. Unfortunately, the state took over and Natalie ended up in prison with DWI and illegal drug possession convictions. Now 22, Natalie lives with her boyfriend and her baby daughter in a trailer. She suffers from bipolar disorder and can’t hold a job. Medications that she takes to control her anxiety and depression have caused her to gain 100 pounds which doesn’t sit well on her petite 5’1” frame. (more…)

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    Meet Disruptive Woman to Watch: Carolyn Clancy, MD

    clancyWhen the Obama Administration sought top-quality healthcare leaders to assume prominent roles of responsibility in the beleaguered Veterans Administration, it came as no surprise to anyone that Carolyn Clancy, M.D. was one of those tapped to move to the VA.

    After a decade as head of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (and we’ll get back to how profoundly she reshaped that organization), this Disruptive Woman to Watch was named VA Interim Undersecretary for Health and then Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health before moving into her current role as the Chief Medical Officer for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

    It didn’t take long for her to make an impact on the healthcare our nation provides to its military veterans.  Here’s one example.  Under the previous VA administration, it was reported that certain medical facilities got the nickname “Candy Land” because of their propensity for handing out painkilling medications.  In fact, a report noted that opiate prescriptions had more than quintupled over an eight-year period even as the number of patients declined. (more…)

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    How Many More Annas Must Die?

    anna gunnIt’s been over a year since my older sister Anna died, so I choke up less readily while speaking about it.  The raw anger is less, but the frustration of losing someone to a preventable medical mistake will always remain with me.   Anna was five years older than me, my only sister, and the one I often turned to for advice. We were close despite living 600+ miles apart.  She was smart and insightful; she was at ease in most social situations. I, on the other hand, was the nerdy kid sister who loved science, who became a physician in my early 40’s.

    In 2012, Anna’s world turned upside down when she was diagnosed with bone marrow failure (myelodysplastic syndrome) at 58.  This disease stemmed from her previous treatment for breast cancer. At the time of diagnosis, everything else in her life seemed to be going well.  She loved being a (single) mom; she had a wonderful job; and they had just adopted an adorable Lab. She actually felt great. (more…)

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    The Flu Shot: It’s Not Just for Kids

    swhr_icon-2-solidThe following post first ran on Huffington Post Healthy Living on September 23 and can be accessed here. The author is Liliana Losada Brown, PhD, Associate Director, Scientific Programs at the Society for Women’s Health Research.

    Think back to the last time you got a shot. Did the doctor cover the wound with a cartoon character-printed bandage and treat you to a lollipop? If so, you are way overdue for a flu shot — but that’s OK, we all are! Adults, children, pregnant women — everyone! –older than six months should get a flu shot every year.

    We all know the flu: the serious, contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that infects nearly 20 percent of Americans every year. Do you want to be among those that don’t get the flu? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every person over the age of six months, especially pregnant and breastfeeding women, get the influenza vaccine (“flu shot”) every year. (more…)

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    American Hospitals Need to Stop Offering Fast Food, Quick!

    heather farthingBan on Hospital Smoking: A Model

    In the 1950′s the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published what was, at the time, an incredibly surprising finding: smoking is detrimental to health1. By 1964, the Surgeon General had publically acknowledged the linkage between smoking and cancer and, by the seventies, the smoking-cancer relationship was standard curricula in U.S. medical schools 2. Despite both medical and public awareness, however, hospital policy lagged behind the science; most healthcare centers had little to no official regulation regarding smoking in their facilities2. Reducing Smoking in Hospitals. A time for Action, published in a 1985 issue of the JAMA, declared a forceful criticism of this oversight:

    Six years later, the Joint Commission: Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) ordered that all American hospitals be smoke free by the end of 19934. Today, American hospitals are plagued by a bad case of déjà vu. This time the paradox is not the presence of the cigarette at the bedside, but rather the burgers, the fries, and the soft drinks.

    What’s Wrong With Fast Food? (more…)

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    Take Your Healthy Lifestyle with You on Vacation

    The following post originally ran on the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s blog on June 2nd. It can be seen here.

    June kicks off the summer vacation season and who isn’t ready for a little rest and relaxation? While enjoying your getaway, don’t forget to keep your health in mind. Making healthy lifestyle part of your everyday routine is necessary in cancer prevention. Sun safety, healthy eating and exercise are important steps we sometimes forget while vacationing. Start your summer off right with these simple tips to continue to stay on track during your time off.

    1. Active Activities
    Keep your family active while on vacation and get moving for at least 30 minutes a day. Explore your new surroundings by walking or renting bikes to see all the sights. Research popular activities at your destination like hiking, surfing or paddleboarding. (more…)

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