Promoting Women’s Health in the Balkans

The JDC-Komen Race for the Cure in Sarajevo has become a much-publicized and unifying event.
The JDC-Komen Race for the Cure in Sarajevo has become a much-publicized and unifying event.

Two decades after the devastating war that ravaged the Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina still faces numerous rebuilding challenges, particularly in providing a social safety net for its citizens.

Those challenges take on a unique form in the public healthcare system. For victims of breast cancer, which is a leading cause of death in the region, lack of access to basic treatment compounds the pain and loneliness of the disease.

Sabiha Dervišević, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30, faced extremely limited treatment options and experienced firsthand the stigma of the disease in her society.

Fortunately for Sabiha, JDC was there to help. Through its Women’s Health Empowerment Program (WHEP), a partnership with Susan G. Komen for the Cure, JDC has been raising awareness and early detection of breast cancer in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 2005.

These efforts include organizing the landmark JDC-Komen Race for the Cure, which has become a unifying and much-publicized tradition in this country.

Through proceeds raised from the race, Sabiha received a drug that significantly improves life expectancy but is not offered by the public health system and would have been impossible for her to afford on her own. Today she is a survivor—a gift for which her young son and beloved husband are forever grateful.

Every day, JDC is working to multiply this kind of impact exponentially, through countrywide awareness-building and by bringing together key players – medical professionals, researchers, non-governmental organizations, and activists and survivors – who can boost efforts to prevent and treat breast cancer.

WHEP is also transcending ethnic and religious divides by empowering women of diverse backgrounds to fight a disease that affects all of them.

A conference to be held this fall, preceding the 5th annual Race, will attempt to replicate the success of the program in other locations, and continue to turn the tables on this disease throughout the region. WHEP has already expanded its program to neighboring Montenegro, and it is also operating today in Hungary and Russia.

For the first time, JDC Ambassadors will travel to Sarajevo to see the work of JDC’s Women’s Health Empowerment Program firsthand and participate in the moving 5K Race at the end of September. This will be followed by a journey of remembrance to the stunning cities of Mostar and Dubrovnik, marking the 20th anniversary of the start of the Siege of Sarajevo and the JDC-led rescue.

For more information, contact Rebecca Neuwirth, director of JDC Ambassadors, rebeccan@jdcny.org or by phone at (212) 885-0878.

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