There were a lot of words we didn’t hear during the presidential debate last night, “breast cancer” being two of them. “Women” was also conspicuously absent, as was “women’s health.” “Environment” “poverty” “immigration” ”affordable housing” and “inequality” also took a backseat to lengthy lectures on tax plans and market-based healthcare solutions.
Were we naïve to have expected breast cancer be discussed in last night’s presidential debate? If you consider asking three men to make a women’s health issue a priority, perhaps; however, it’s not naïve if you face the stark reality that breast cancer is a public health epidemic for which the leading risk factor in the U.S. is being a woman.
The issues that fuel breast cancer are central to women’s health. Yet for over 30 years the government has outsourced breast cancer to organizations like Komen and Avon, (which are beholden to corporate funding) rather than create strong policies and fund independent research to help address and end the breast cancer epidemic. The cost is women now face a public health crisis of epidemic proportions.
As you know from our work, we don’t privilege breast cancer over other diseases. We strongly believe that if government turned its attention to fully address and end the breast cancer epidemic, the impact will reach far beyond people who have breast cancer because the root causes of breast cancer lie at the heart of many human and civil rights issues: of course basic quality healthcare but also inequality, immigration, racial discrimination, environmental degradation, corporate influence in politics, affordable housing, and so much more. In order to get to the root causes of an epidemic that kills 40,000 women a year, we must engage the bigger than just breast cancer issues of environmental and social justice.
Our government has a unique and essential role in addressing and ending the breast cancer epidemic. Last night President Obama said of the economy that the government can’t do everything, but it plays an important part. The same is true in all women’s health issues, including breast cancer, which is why we developed the 2012 Breast Cancer Action Mandate for Government Action on breast cancer. While the government alone cannot address and end the breast cancer epidemic, the government has a responsibility to all people to take an important and critical role that no one individual person or organization can.
The 2012 Breast Cancer Action Mandate for Government Action is about addressing and ending breast cancer, but it is simultaneously about so much more than this one disease:
- We want healthcare that puts people before profits, because profit-driven healthcare is the root of our broken healthcare system. In last night’s debate we heard a lot about how privatizing the healthcare system will bring down costs for patients. That’s not the solution. As long as our healthcare system is driven primarily by concern for profit, not human health, we all lose.
- We want common sense regulations on toxins we’re all exposed to in our everyday lives. We’re swimming in an unregulated toxic soup that contributes to many types of cancer as well as autism, obesity, asthma, and much more. We need our elected leaders to step up and limit industry influence in the regulatory process.
- We want independent research that funds gaps left by industry. We cannot continue to rely solely on inherently profit driven Big Pharma to produce drugs and treatments; we need research that puts the needs of patients first. This is vital for all diseases, not just breast cancer.
- We want to address and eliminate the root causes of health inequities. Social injustices – racial, economic, environmental – lead to inequities in breast cancer outcomes. This is true for many health issues. Our health is not just determined by our genes, but also by where we live, work, and play. We need to address the root causes of persistent health disparities that are not solved through access to healthcare alone. As long as social injustices are embedded in our society, health outcomes will be a social justice issue.
Breast cancer affects individuals but its impact and reach extend far beyond those individuals. So let’s make sure that as this election progresses we hear more about how women fit into this future that we are all being asked to vote on. As food for thought, here are some Critical Questions for Conscious Voters. Let’s keep women, our health and the urgency of addressing and ending breast cancer front and center in the national conversation both during this election and well beyond.