Africa: WHO Director-General’s Statement On the Passing of Lawrence Lacks Sr.

We are deeply saddened by the passing of Lawrence Lacks Sr., WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Cervical Cancer Elimination.

The world has lost a powerful advocate for social justice and health equity.

Lawrence was only 16 years old when his mother, Henrietta Lacks, died of cervical cancer. As she sought treatment, Mrs Lacks’ “immortal” HeLa cells were taken from her body without her knowledge or consent. Her cells would go on to change the world as they gave rise to countless medical breakthroughs, including vaccines against the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. Yet, shockingly, the scientific community once hid Henrietta Lacks’ race, identity, and real story. It was a historic wrong that Lawrence committed himself to address.

Lawrence would transform that painful loss into a multi-generational struggle for justice. We honour his moral conviction in leading the family’s fight for a world in which women and people of colour should never again be exploited in the name of science, in which all people everywhere have equitable access to life-saving medicine, and in which no woman should die of cervical cancer.

Our hearts go out to all members of the Lacks Family in this difficult time. Together with his granddaughters and nephew, WHO Goodwill Ambassadors Veronica Robinson, Victoria Baptiste, and Alfred Lacks Carter Jr., we will continue striving to carry Lawrence’s legacy forward.


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