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Women’s wins Grand Challenges Rising Stars in Global Health award

Feb. 21, 2012

For the second year in a row, a scientist at Women’s College Research Institute has been awarded one of 15 Rising Stars in Global Health Awards from Grand Challenges Canada. The awards total $1.5 million, to support innovative projects that aim to improve global health conditions.

“We often think the greatest threats to global health are diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV,” says Dr. Ophira Ginsburg, adjunct scientist at Women’s College Research Institute. “But cancer kills more people than all these diseases combined, and breast cancer is the most common cancer among women.”

Ginsburg’s team’s pilot project – the only breast cancer project submitted to Grand Challenges Canada’s Rising Stars in Global Health Award – will use mobile phone technology to improve breast cancer diagnosis and care in Bangladesh.

“In low-income countries, there is very little recognition of the prevalence of breast cancer, and women often die without any treatment,” she explains. “We’re so thrilled to have support from Grand Challenges Canada to bring breast care to women in Bangladesh.”

Poverty, bad roads and a shortage of doctors discourage rural Bangladeshi women from seeking treatment for breast cancer until it’s too late.

“Women in Bangladesh have low social status, and many can’t get permission from their husbands to pursue treatment.”

That’s why, at the clinic founded by Ginsburg, her team and her collaborators, about 80 per cent of the patients have advanced breast cancer. To encourage women to come to the clinic sooner and stick with their treatment, Ginsburg and her colleagues partnered with Mridul Chowdhury, founder and CEO of mPower Health, a Bangladeshi social business that develops mobile phone solutions to public health problems.

“Using mobile phone technology, we’re going to help community health workers identify and refer women with breast problems to the clinic.”

The technology can also support followup to encourage women to adhere to their treatment.

“The key to the project’s success is its sustainability,” says Ginsburg, referring to the widespread availability of inexpensive mobile phones in developing countries.

The innovation is supported by $100,000 from Grand Challenges, and the chance to apply for a scale-up grant of $1 million. Ginsburg hopes the project will be a model for diagnosing and treating other chronic diseases in low-income countries like Bangladesh.

“The community will learn that valuing women’s health has a positive impact for all, and that breast cancer can be effectively treated,” says Ginsburg. “And the community health workers will learn new marketable skills which will make the system sustainable.”

In addition to her appointment at Women’s College Research Institute, Ginsburg is an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s department of medicine and Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

Dr. Ophira Ginsburg

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