How the power players do it - by Fortune senior editor at large Patricia Sellers

Katie Couric's global cancer campaign

June 29, 2010: 1:30 PM ET

By Patricia Sellers

A lot of dazzling stats came out of the Global Forum -- the Fortune/Time/CNN's confab that was held these past few days in Cape Town, South Africa. Africa's GDP growth rate is double what it was in the '80s and '90s. That healthy growth is well-balanced -- two-thirds of it comes from outside the resource sector. Meanwhile, consumer buying power is rising steadily: Africa has more middle class households -- with incomes of $20,000 or more -- than India does.

Those stats, from those globe-gazing consultants at McKinsey, are heartening -- as you would expect at a confab on a continent that has progressed to draw such a high-powered crowd. (In my hotel, the characters I kept bumping into ranged from CNN's Wolf Blitzer, to architect Frank Gehry, to Bill Clinton, to Katie Couric.)Katie Couric

It was Couric, the CBS (CBS) Evening News anchor, who arrived in Cape Town with the most disturbing statistics. They relate to the cause she has championed ever since her husband, Jay Monahan, died in 1998: the race to stop cancer.

Couric, who has lately broadened her campaign beyond colon cancer, told the Global Forum audience that cancer has become "an equal opportunity disease." While developed countries once accounted for 80% of the world's cancer cases, developing countries now account for more than half. And by the end of the decade, Couric said, two-thirds of cancer cases will belong to the developing world.

No place is hit harder than Africa, which will get a disproportionate share of the killer disease. While positive trends in Africa -- like urbanization and greater longevity -- lift cancer rates here, the continent is ill-eqipped to deal with the problem. In Africa, Couric says, for every 10 people who are diagnosed with cancer every year, eight people die.

Couric, who also lost her sister to cancer, has already raised huge attention and money -- more than $100 million via Stand Up to Cancer, a program that she co-founded with the Entertainment Industry Foundation to fund collaborative cancer research. Couric is now spreading the word about how global cancer has become. More people around the world die from cancer every year than from HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB combined -- and cancer, she noted, "is poised at some point this year to overtake cardiovascular disease as the number one cause of death worldwide."

Her visit to Africa shows how far her valiant efforts can reach.

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