SPRINGFIELD – Heart Disease, stroke, breast cancer, cervical cancer, and osteoporosis are some of the top health concerns facing women and Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich is bringing these concerns to the forefront to heighten awareness and save lives. The Governor proclaimed this week, May 8th – 13th Women’s Health Week, a time to remind women about health issues particular to them and the state services and programs available to them.
“We are highlighting National Women’s Health Week here in Illinois to increase awareness and educate women about potentially life threatening diseases that are more likely to affect them,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We are proud to be one of only 15 states in the country to have an Office of Women’s Health to address these issues and strengthen our commitment to improving the health of women throughout the state.”
As part of a day-long women’s health fair on May 12th at the Capitol Rotunda, the state will celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP). The IBCCP provided nearly 19,000 women with free screenings in FY 04 and a total of 57,000 women since the inception of the program. The Illinois Department of Public Health’s Office of Women’s health contracts with 26 lead agencies that work with 2,100 providers to offer free mammograms, breast exams, pap tests and pelvic exams to low-income women between the ages of 35-64 who have no health insurance. All 26 lead agencies will be presented with an award for their efforts at the May 12 event.
Pamila Schmidt, 50 of Logan County credits the IBCCP for saving her life. Two years ago, Schmidt’s daughter urged her to sign up for the program since she was uninsured and needed a mammogram. Her free mammogram detected a cancerous lump.
“If it was not for this program, I would not be here today. My breast cancer was so aggressive that I would have died if I didn’t catch it early,” said Pamila Schmidt, IBCCP participant and breast cancer survivor. “So many women go undiagnosed unnecessarily because they don’t reach out to programs like this for help.” Schmidt was able to get her treatment covered through Medicaid and her oncologist recently gave her a clean bill of health.
Louanner Peters, the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Social Services, will speak at the May 12th event in Springfield to discuss the administration’s commitment to addressing women’s health issues, from cardiovascular disease to mandatory insurance coverage for birth control.
Last year, Gov. Blagojevich signed landmark legislation that requires private insurance providers to cover all FDA approved birth control drugs and devices for not only men, but women as well. To ensure women have access to the contraceptives their doctors prescribe, in early April, he issued an emergency order that requires pharmacies that sell contraceptives to fill orders for birth control without delay. The Governor's action came in response to reports that some Illinois women with signed prescriptions for FDA-approved birth control were turned away at the pharmacy.
Since taking office, Gov. Blagojevich has proven women’s health is a priority by adding an additional $4 million in state funding to support breast and cervical cancer screening and education. The administration’s support for community and faith-based groups, such as the Stand Against Cancer Initiative (SAC) resulted in 7,500 screenings. SAC works to target the hardest to reach minority women throughout Illinois by partnering with neighborhood organizations, churches and Federally Qualified Health Centers. In FY 05, the total amount of funds supporting breast and cervical cancer programs is $11.45 million including $6.15 million in state dollars. Over the last two years, investments toward breast and cervical cancer screening and education programs in Illinois totals more than $21 million. Gov. Blagojevich also passed legislation in December creating a 12-member Cervical Cancer Elimination Task Force to help educate the public about cervical cancer and develop a statewide comprehensive prevention and control plan.
“We are making great strides in addressing women’s health issues with the support and commitment of Gov. Blagojevich,” said Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director. “The work he has done has allowed us to aggressively respond to women’s health concerns with educational tools, access to cancer screenings for low income women and implementing programs that make a difference.”
Another health issue facing women is the number one killer, heart disease. According to 2002 Illinois data, nearly 22,000 females died from cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke. The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has provided funding to local health departments and community-based agencies for the development of cardiovascular programs like the Heart Smart for Women Program, a 12-week program that helps women improve nutrition and increase physical activity. Some 3,000 women will benefit as a result.
IDPH has also expanded the WISEWOMAN (Well-Integrated Screening and Evaluation for Women Across the Nation) program to 20 Illinois counties - so women in the IBCCP now have the opportunity to reduce their risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. WISEWOMAN aims to lower heart disease and other chronic disease risk factors through screening and a lifestyle intervention program which guides women toward healthier eating and adequate exercise.
The Department kicked off their own Public Health Out Walking (PHOW) campaign to encourage employees to stay active and healthy. Dr. Whitaker challenges IDPH employees to take 10,000 steps per day during a 12-week period.
Another important health issue women need to be aware of is osteoporosis. An estimated 10 million Americans over the age of 50 have osteoporosis and one in two women over 50 will suffer a fracture because of osteoporosis during their lives. You can prevent osteoporosis by getting adequate amounts of calcium and exercise starting at an early age. Illinois’ Building Bones Program is a grant program offered through local health departments and community-based agencies, which educates and provides screenings to women for risk assessment. The program allows nearly 7,000 women to be educated about osteoporosis. This year, IDPH will take their awareness campaign a step further by working on a pilot project with elementary, junior high and high school students. They will have an opportunity to learn more about the importance of exercise and the health benefits of calcium.
In April 2004, Gov Blagojevich launched the Healthy Women program under the Department of Public Aid. The free program offers low-income women who are leaving the Medicaid program the tools to prevent unplanned pregnancies and to assist women in making a successful transition from welfare to work. As of November 5, 2004, more than 80,000 women have participated in the program.
To learn about these programs and more, the Illinois Department of Public Health invited women’s health exhibitors to hand out informational materials at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago on May 10th from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm, in addition to the State Capitol event on May 12th. For more information on women’s health and programs offered through IDPH visit www.idph.state.il.us or call the Women’s Health-Line at 888-522-1282 or for TTY, (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466.