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SGO 2019 Presidential Speaker Dr. Agnes Binagwaho Inspires Political Activism for Physicians

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At the 50th Annual Meeting for the Society of Gynecologic Oncology on Women’s Cancers (March 16-19) in Honolulu, HI, the invited presidential speaker Agnes Binagwaho, MD, PhD spoke about the need for physicians to pursue political activism.

Binagwaho is a Rwandan pediatrician who served as the former health minister of Rwanda for five years (from May 2011 to July 2016). In September 2016, she was appointed as Professor of Global Health Delivery for the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Kigali, Rwanda, and, in April 2017, she was named as UGHE’s vice chancellor and chief executive. She currently resides in Kigali.

Throughout her career, Binagwaho has provided clinical care in the public sector and has held a number of positions in project management, health system strengthening, and government service. She has served on many academic boards. Her engagements include research on health equity, HIV/AIDS, information and communication technologies (ICT) in e-health, and pediatric care delivery systems. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, served on the International Advisory Board of Lancet Global Health, the editorial board of "PLoS Medicine" and of "Health and Human Rights: An International Journal", and contributed to multiple books.

After practicing as a pediatrician for over 15 years, Binagwaho led the National AIDS Control Commission between 2002 and 2008. One of her most notable clinical and political achievements, which was discussed at 2019 SGO, was providing HPV vaccinations for more than 90 percent of girls in Rwanda.

Not only did the talk report on findings from her work, but it focused on rebuilding trust and leveraging social capital to eliminate HPV.

In addition, she emphasized the need for data to drive social activism.

Binagwaho said that she wanted to see the same happen in America and around the world.

Her statement on wanting to put cervical cancer doctors out of business resonated with many attendees.

Many left the session with newfound motivation to engage in politics.

“What I took away from the talk is that political activism is incredibly important,” said Bobbie J. Rimel, MD, a gynecologic cancer researcher and the associate director for Gynecologic Oncology clinical trials at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “As a person not in policy, I need to be aware of what strategies are being voted on in my area in regards to health policy. Prior to this talk, I was aware that school-based vaccination might be important, but it did not register for me as it does now. Now, when I’m looking for mayor, city, school board candidates — any space in which health policy would be discussed — I need to demand school-based vaccinations, which is basically how she accomplished such high school-based vaccination rates.”

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