Ask ten people what they know of the IAEA, and you’re likely to be met with responses that touch upon the organization’s work in nuclear non-proliferation or its efforts to support the peaceful use of nuclear technology. They are often surprised to learn that the organization takes an active part in helping its member states to combat cancer.
For over three decades, the IAEA has played a humble yet important role in providing cancer-related assistance across the globe. In that time, over $220 million has been dispatched to support training and equipment in the areas of nuclear medicine and radiotherapy, and the work continues to expand. A particularly important and visible portion of the IAEA’s work to fight cancer lies with PACT, the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy.
PACT’s primary goal is to help low- and middle-income countries to meet the growing need for cancer control services. With recent statistics indicating that 56% of new cancer cases and 63% of cancer deaths occurring in developing nations, the importance of PACT’s work cannot be overstated. PACT works by safely and efficiently mobilizing radiation medicine technology to places that need it. This work is done in close collaboration with a coalition of partners, most notably the World Health Organization.
One high-impact service that PACT performs is helping a country to get a full-scale assessment of how it deals with cancer. imPACT missions, such as these in Tanzania and Kenya, are comprised of a team of experts from the IAEA, WHO and other specialists who assess the national burden posed by cancer and the status of national health care plans and strategies related to cancer prevention, surveillance, early detection (early diagnosis and screening), diagnosis and treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.
Hundreds of hours go into the preparation, execution, and follow-up of these missions, and the final outcome is a document that helps a country to set priorities and directs potential donors to where they might contribute.
While the IAEA’s work to fight cancer might not make international headlines, it is making a difference for patients and doctors working to overcome the disease and put appropriate services in place across the developing world.