The World Health Organization (WHO) has honoured an African-American woman whose cells have led to crucial medical breakthroughs.
Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer at the age of 31 in 1951, and doctors took samples of her cells without her or her family’s knowledge.
They were the first living human cells to proliferate outside of the body.
They were used in studies that resulted in the polio vaccine, gene mapping, and IVF treatment.
Because of these and other achievements, Henrietta Lacks has been dubbed the “mother” of modern medicine.
“What happened to Henrietta was wrong,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday at a special ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland.
“Henrietta Lacks was taken advantage of.” She is one of many black women whose bodies have been abused by science.
“She put her faith in the health-care system in order to receive treatment.” “However, the system took something from her without her knowledge or consent,” said Dr Tedros.
The HeLa cells, named after the first two letters of Henrietta Lacks’ first and last names, were also used in the development of a vaccine against cervical cancer, the disease that killed Lacks.
Lacks’ 87-year-old son Lawrence accepted the award on his mother’s behalf, describing her as a remarkable woman who continued to help the world long after her death.
Lacks, a Virginia tobacco farmer, was buried in an unmarked grave after dying in a racially segregated hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.