A First Ladies cancer summit: Obama and Aliyeva

The last summit between the U.S. and Azerbaijan occurred in September of 2010 between President Obama and President Ilham Aliyev. The topic of
conversation between these two young leaders was undoubtedly Azerbaijan's contributions to the war on terrorism, highlighting Azerbaijan's critical link in the Northern Distribution Network  -- the supply line that delivers food and fuel needed by U.S. and NATO military forces in Afghanistan and the uninterrupted flow of Azerbaijan's energy resources to the international markets. This secular Muslim nation of 8 million is a key player in the West's energy security as Europe attempts to diversify away from Russian natural gas exports.

Unfortunately, what was not discussed is a topic equally important in saving lives; namely, the war on cancer. And here is where a White House summit between Michelle Obama and Mehriban Aliyeva can bring renewed energy, focus, funding and moral conviction to the fight against cancer. Looking out from her office overlooking the Caspian Sea the first lady of Azerbaijan gets emotional when it comes to the subject of cancer: "Cancer is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives." Mrs. Aliyeva speaks from first- hand experience having been touched by the loss of her mother at a very young age. And she is right. Cancer won as Steve Jobs lost. Brain cancer took away the life an American senator from Massachusetts called Ted but that same year it also took away the life of a 32-year old father of two from Azerbaijan called Murad. With passion and conviction Mrs. Aliyeva correctly points out that "cancer has no boundaries and recognizes no religion. It is the indiscriminate killer of the young and old, American and Azerbaijani."

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As President of the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Mrs. Aliyeva focuses her humanitarian efforts on the renovation and modernization of schools and
orphanages for Azerbaijan's youth. She is also a patron of her nation's rich historic and cultural heritage and has show cased Azerbaijan's traditional music in capitals around the world. Through the Heydar Aliyev Foundation she has succeeded in refocusing Azerbaijan's identity away from its Soviet past to its indigenous rich roots. In addition, this compassionate mother of three works tirelessly to help children in her own country and around the world with illnesses such as diabetes and thalassemia. Not surprisingly, UNESCO has named her as one of its Goodwill Ambassadors and most recently President Sarkozy awarded her with the French Legion of Honor. And yet what drives the humanitarian inside Mrs. Aliyeva is her determination to win the war against cancer. What Azerbaijan's First Lady needs is an equally driven, intelligent and compassionate first lady with a loud bully pulpit.

First Lady Michelle Obama is the perfect partner for Mrs. Aliyeva. For example, Mrs. Obama has single handedly drawn attention to the critical national epidemic in our country of childhood obesity. Before the world looses another Steve Jobs, Ted or Murad, it may be time for Michelle Obama to invite Mehriban Aliyeva to the White House and announce a new and robust effort to tackle the challenge of cancer. This deadly disease kills over 500,000 fathers, mothers, sons and daughters each year in America. Each year 1.4 million Americans are diagnosed with cancer and of this figure 569,490 die. World-wide cancer is the leading cause of death. Cases of cancer have doubled from 1975 - 2000 and will double again by 2020. There were an estimated 12 million new cancer diagnoses in 2010 and 7 million deaths. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that by 2030 17 million people will die of cancer. The rapid increase in cancer both here in America and around the globe is a real challenge to healthsystems worldwide.

Luckily for Mrs. Obama the history of U.S.-Azerbaijan cooperation has proven to have been mutually rewarding. Indeed, taking the lead on issues related to Azerbaijan should not come as a surprise to the White House. In the 1990s, President Clinton took the hand of the former President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliyev, in friendship and together they laid the foundation of an energy corridor between the landlocked Caspian Sea and the Mediterranean.  Today, thanks to the vision of the late Heydar Aliyev and the leadership of President Clinton, refineries on the east coast receive crude from Azerbaijan and Europe's natural gas supplies will not be a hostage to the whims of Vladimir Putin because of Azerbaijan gas exports.

At this White House summit, Mrs. Obama and Aliyeva can announce the establishment of a five year $500 million fund in partnership with leading
American and Azeri cancer centers such as Georgetown University Lombardi Cancer Center, Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Baku Oncology Hospital.  The main purpose of this fund would be to "democratize cancer research" so that any promising blood test or non-invasive tool to detect
cancer discovered in America would be shared in real time with doctors and patients in Azerbaijan and around the world.

Nothing could be more important and leave a lasting legacy than a U.S.-Azerbaijan partnership in killing cancer before cancer kills us.

S.R. Sobhani is CEO of the Caspian Group.