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Taking Stock: The Fight Against Cancer

IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy Reviews Progress

PACT Briefing

Werner Burkart, Deputy Director General for the IAEA´s Department of Nuclear Applications and Sciences, welcomes delegate attending the briefing for PACT held in Vienna, Austria during the 53rd IAEA General Conference. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

The IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) took the occasion of the 53rd IAEA General Conference to brief Member States and donors on progress of its work to fight the growing cancer pandemic in developing countries since 1997. More than fifty people attended the PACT briefing, including official representatives from some of PACT´s partners, supporters and donors.

In welcoming the delegates, Werner Burkart, Deputy Director General for the IAEA´s Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, singled out the strong support from Member States and PACT´s solid relationship with its partners as contributing much to the success of the programme.

"Although the challenge is great,"Dr. Burkart stressed, "the framework for the delivery of assistance through PACT is the correct approach."

"We work together with partners to help Member States establish sustainable, country-owned programmes that have full governmental support. This approach has already been effective in convincing several international donors to make available over US $24 million in funding for cancer control in the countries where PACT works." he said.

Massoud Samiei, Head of the PACT Programme Office, followed Dr. Burkart´s introduction with a presentation to the delegates of the progress made by PACT over the last two years. Mr. Samiei emphasized the continued rise in cancer numbers in developing countries and resulting increasing need for cancer control assistance. He pointed out that the PACT programme´s largest efforts have focused on Africa, including the selection of Ghana as the latest country to become a PACT Model Demonstration Site (PMDS).

According to Mr. Samiei, expected results for the PACT programme during the 2009-2011 biennium include the full operation of the IAEA´s recently signed agreement with the World Health Organization on a Joint Programme on Cancer Control. Announced in May 2009, this cooperation will strengthen and accelerate the efforts of both organizations to fight cancer in the developing world. PACT also expects to conduct integrated missions (imPACT missions) to new countries to provide a comprehensive assessment of their cancer care needs and infrastructure. Establishing up to 12 new PMDS is also planned for the period leading to 2011. At the same time, plans are underway for a regional cancer control training network in Africa and the creation of a Virtual University for Cancer Control, which is expected to be available by January 2010.

Presentations from PMDS in Tanzania and Vietnam and from Mongolia, which recently welcomed its first imPACT mission, further reinforced the concern of Member States about the rapidly escalating number of cancer cases in developing countries. All three presentations stressed the benefits countries have received through partnership with PACT.

Professor Twalib Ngoma, Executive Director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, said Tanzania has over 35 000 new cancer cases a year but it only has the capacity to treat 3 000 patients per year. About 75-80% of these patients come for treatment at very advanced stages of the disease, limiting treatment options. Professor Ngoma praised the sustainability of the interventions achieved through the PACT initiative, including the launch of a new Equinox Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machine in May 2008, which has doubled the country´s capacity to treat patients.

"In this short period that we have been working with PACT, we in the field have seen a lot of progress." he said.

Professor Vuong Huu Tan, Chairman of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute, said his country has about 150 000 new cancer cases each year with as many as 75 000 of these patients dying every year of the disease. A Cobalt-60 radiotherapy machine was donated to the country by India through the PACT programme. PACT is also working with the national authorities to effectively implement key aspects of Vietnam´s national cancer control programme, including organized screening programmes to provide earlier detection of common cancers such as breast and cervical cancer, improved public awareness of the signs and symptoms of cancer and prevention strategies. Professor Tan thanked PACT for its assistance in helping his country progress in the fight against cancer, and welcomed future collaboration.

Following a visit to Mongolia by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in April 2009, Mongolia and the IAEA have agreed to collaborate to upgrade the country´s capacity to provide cancer diagnostics and radiotherapy. In July 2009, an imPACT mission to review Mongolia´s existing cancer control capacity and infrastructure took place. Reporting on the results of this mission at the PACT briefing, Ms. Jamanda Tsolmon, Deputy Minister of Mongolia´s Ministry of Health, told delegates that cancer is now the second leading cause of death in her country with cancer prevalence and mortality rates increasing, in line with world wide trends.

"Too many of my people are dying from cancer with devastating social and economic results," she said.

Ms. Tsolmon explained that due to late stage presentation, most cancer patients in Mongolia survive only one year after the time they are diagnosed. The country has established a national programme for cancer control but this is hampered by the country´s remote and rugged terrain, scattered population, and the lack of necessary medical equipment and cancer services. The imPACT mission and future assistance to Mongolia based on its recommendations will help the country to address these challenges.

At the briefing, representatives from donors and supporters, including the French International Cancer Cooperation Network, the United Nations Federal Credit Union and the United Nations Women´s Guild of Vienna, took the opportunity to express continued support for PACT, praising the progress it has achieved thus far.

To conclude the briefing, Nigeria´s representative to the IAEA, Mr. Jerry Sonny Ugokwe, read a statement from the First Lady of Nigeria, Ms. Hajiya Turai Yar´Adua.She asked the global community to join the cancer fight, saying: "PACT is calling on donors, great and small, to add their support to the fight against cancer. I urge you to join this effort. Together we can close the gap and end the cancer inequalities that spell pain and death for millions of people."