Operation Wipe Out has a big mission for Alabama—an interview with Dr. Isabel Scarinci

Operation Wipe Out
Operation Wipe Out launch, left to right: Dan Stephens (Rotary Club of Birmingham), Dr. Scott Harris (Alabama State Health Officer), Nancy Wright (Director, Cancer Prevention and Control Division, Alabama Department of Public Health), Dr. Isabel Scarinci (Vice-Chair for Global and Rural Women’s Health, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham), Dr. Gary Pugh (Medical Officer, Alabama Department of Public Health), Dr. Deborah Smith (Medical Director, Quality of Life Health Services, Inc.), Anna Lisa Weigel (Former Associate Director for Cancer Center Partnerships at the American Cancer Society) and Dr. Heather White (Executive Director, TogetHER for Health). (Dr. Isabel Scarinci)

It’s no secret that Alabama is filled with innovative healthcare professionals making huge strides toward a healthier state, nation and world. One such professional, Dr. Isabel Scarinci, has a fascinating story—from advocating for polio awareness in Brazil as a young girl to becoming a leader at UAB and the Rotary Club of Birmingham.

Here’s her story, plus her role in a huge mission for Alabama—Operation Wipe Out.

About Dr. Isabel Scarinci

Dr Scarinci
Dr. Isabel Scarinci has an intriguing story. (Dr. Isabel Scarinci)

Dr. Scarinci is UAB’s vice chair for Global and Rural Women’s Health in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and her extensive experience in the health field is rooted in a diagnosis she received as a baby.

Dr. Scarinci was born in Brazil, and was diagnosed with polio at just eight months old. Her mother, a math teacher, was deeply affected by her daughter’s disease and became dedicated to the elimination of polio. She would take the young Isabel door to door in Brazil, raising awareness of the dangers of polio.

“When I tell the story, people feel sorry for me—but quite the opposite. She did it in a way that I felt important, and I felt I was part of a very important mission.”

Dr. Isabel Scarinci

Motivated by her long history of raising awareness for polio, Dr. Isabel Scarinci studied to become a clinical psychologist in Brazil. Her studies led her to Birmingham, where she furthered her education at UAB.

After earning her PhD at LSU, completing her residency at Harvard and starting her career in Memphis, Dr. Scarinci returned to Birmingham 22 years ago with her husband.

In the Magic City, she’s made a huge impact in the health sector and been heavily involved in the Rotary Club of Birmingham. In fact, her participation in Rotary has led to one of her biggest passions—eliminating cervical cancer from Alabama.

Rotary + Operation Wipe Out

Operation Wipeout
Summit for Operation Wipe Out with health care providers and public health leaders from across the state. (Dr. Isabel Scarinci)

When Dr. Scarinci got involved with Rotaract as a young woman, little did she know that the organization would become one of the biggest parts of her life. She attributes much of the successful elimination of polio to Rotary, and sees Rotary as the way to eliminate cervical cancer in the same way.

Back when Dr. Scarinci lived in Brazil, she worked in a cancer hospital, and that’s where she was exposed firsthand to the effects of cervical cancer.

Later, armed with her knowledge in clinical psychology, she began to develop, implement, and evaluate programs to promote HPV vaccination, cervical cancer screening, and adherence to follow-up appointments if cervical cancer screenings reveal abnormal results.

The Rotary Club of Birmingham started working with the Rotary Club of Colombo in Sri Lanka to help reduce breast and cervical cancer incidences there. This project spurred them to bring their solutions back home to Birmingham.

Dr. Scarinci, the Rotary Club of Birmingham, the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, TogetHER for Health, the Alabama Department of Public Health, the American Cancer Society, the Rotary Club of LaFayette, and Quality of Life Health Services, Inc. came together to create a program with a big mission—eliminate cervical cancer in Alabama by 2033.

And so Operation Wipe Out was born. Notably, Alabama is the first and only state in the United States to officially launch such a plan.

Dr. Scarinci’s thoughts on Operation Wipe Out

In addition to the founding organizations, many other partners have joined this effort, and Dr. Scarinci believes it’s important that everyone come together to help eliminate cervical cancer. For example, the Chambers County School District is engaged with Operation Wipe Out on an initiative to empower high school students to organize and implement a campaign to promote HPV vaccination.

“Everyone can play a role in the elimination of cervical cancer. If you’re a mother or father you can vaccinate your children. You can motivate the women in your life to get screened and follow up. If you’re a teacher, you can talk to your students. If you’re a businessman or a woman, you can allow time for them to get screened or get their kids vaccinated.

We each have an important part to play in this effort so that we can successfully eliminate this preventable cancer in our state and beyond.”

Dr. Isabel Scarinci

To learn more about how Operation Wipe Out plans to eliminate cervical cancer in the state, as well as how to support the mission, visit their website.

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Sarah Gronberg
Sarah Gronberg
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