"Cervical Cancer Revolution” Proposal Among Top 100 for MacArthur $100 Million Grant

February 19, 2020

Duke biomedical engineer Nimmi Ramanujam’s plan aims to close the cervical cancer inequity gap and catalyze a new model of women-centered health care

Nimmi Ramanujam

Nimmi Ramanujam

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation today unveiled that Duke professor Nimmi Ramanujam’s “Women-Inspired Strategies for Health (WISH): A Revolution Against Cervical Cancer” was one of the highest-scoring proposals in its 100&Change competition for a single $100 million grant to help solve one of the world’s most critical social challenges. The proposal was designated among the Top 100 and will enter the next round of competition this spring.

More than one billion women struggle to access sexual and reproductive health care due to physical, financial, cultural and technical barriers. The disparities in cervical cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment exemplifies this crisis. By 2030, the mortality rate from cervical cancer in developing countries will be ten-fold higher than that in developed countries. At this pace, there will be more than 20 million new cervical cancer cases by 2060, and future vaccination will only reduce the number of new cases by 10 percent.

The Women-Inspired Strategies for Health (WISH) proposal aims to change this trajectory by empowering women with the knowledge, tools and support to close the cervical cancer inequity gap and catalyze a new model of women-centered health care.

PhD student Enakshi Sunassee images a fluorescent specimen by using optical technology that was developed by the Center for Global Women's Health Technologies. All photos by Les ToddLed by Nimmi Ramanujam, director of the Global Women’s Health Technologies Center at Duke University, the program is based on years of research, development and field-testing of portable, user-friendly cervical cancer screening and diagnostics technologies for use in low-resource settings. By decentralizing solutions from hospitals to communities and even women’s homes, the team expects to dramatically increase screening and treatment rates.

“We are extremely thrilled and grateful to be recognized as one of the Top 100 proposals in the 100&Change competition, and excited to make WISH a reality for women facing critical health care gaps,” said Ramanujam, the Robert W. Carr, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Engineering. “This project is necessarily a team endeavor and reflects the power of community to make the impossible, possible. I would like to thank each and every member of my team for their incredible dedication that brought us to this point. Our hope is that WISH’s women-centered approach will spark a multiplier effect where women empower women to end deaths from cervical cancer.”

The Top 100 proposals were rigorously vetted, undergoing MacArthur’s initial administrative review, a Peer-to-Peer review, then an evaluation by an external panel of judges and finally, a technical review by specialists whose expertise was matched to the project.

These proposals will be showcased on the Bold Solutions Network, which was designed to help identify the most effective, enduring solutions aligned with donors’ philanthropic goals and to help top applicants gain visibility and funding from a wide array of funders.

The Bold Solutions Network will provide a menu of technical support and learning opportunities, including a variety of webinars, pro bono services, coaching, workshops, cohort support and peer networking opportunities across the network and in various regions around the world.

Each proposal was evaluated using four criteria: impactful, evidence-based, feasible and durable. MacArthur’s Board of Directors will select up to 10 finalists from these high-scoring proposals this spring.  

Graduate students Riley Deutsch (center) and Corrine Nief (right) use a scope in the lab with Ramanujam's guidance.

To learn more about Nimmi Ramanujam and her work at Duke, check out her recent profile in Magnify, a new publication from the School of Medicine. 

“MacArthur seeks to generate increased recognition, exposure and support for the high-impact ideas designated as the Top 100,” said Cecilia Conrad, CEO of Lever for Change and MacArthur Managing Director, 100&Change. “Based on our experience in the first round of 100&Change, we know the competition will produce multiple compelling and fundable ideas. We are committed to matching philanthropists with powerful solutions and problem solvers to accelerate social change.” 

100&Change is a distinctive competition that is open to organizations and collaborations working in any field, anywhere in the world. Proposals must identify a problem and offer a solution that promises significant and durable change. Key issues in the competition are discussed in a blog on MacArthur's website.