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IAEA and Partners Fight Cancer

Cancer

The IAEA and its partners help developing countries increase access to lifesaving radiotherapy treatment, Vietnam. (Photo: A. Leuker/IAEA)

Together with its partners, the IAEA demonstrates its continued commitment to improving cancer control around the globe in its commemoration of World Cancer Day at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna on 2 February 2012.

World Cancer Day promotes greater global awareness of the cancer epidemic, which is now one of the world's leading causes of death, and the Day honours cancer survivors and patients everywhere. Fighting cancer in developing countries is one of the IAEA's key priorities. Delivering support for cancer care in low- and middle income countries for over 32 years, the IAEA has provided over USD$ 250 million worth of cancer care-related training, services and equipment.

Among the IAEA's most successful and longest running services is the IAEA/WHO Audit, which has been in operation for over 40 years, assisting Member States in improving dosimetry practices in radiotherapy. Together, the IAEA and the World Health Organization also undertake the Joint Programme on Cancer Control, thereby combining efforts on public health and "atoms for health", bringing integrated cancer control solutions to the developing world.

Cancer cannot be fought without trained professionals. The IAEA, through its Technical Cooperation Program, develops the capacity-building projects requested by Member States in areas such as education and training, medical care quality assurance, expert support to strengthen medical care, and coordinated research activities. The IAEA Quality Assurance Team for Radiation Oncology (QUATRO), for example, assesses the safe and effective use of radiation to treat cancer. Moreover, the IAEA also operates a unique Directory of Radiotherapy Centres (DIRAC) and the Nuclear Medicine Database (NUMDAB), integrating information from around the world needed by medical professionals and development experts.

Action for Cancer Therapy

Launched in 2004, the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) is an IAEA initiative that helps low- and middle income Member States in their efforts to tackle the growing cancer crisis, by raising cancer awareness, assessing needs and mobilizing resources. PACT builds on the IAEA's expertise in radiation medicine, to help countries develop sustainable and comprehensive cancer control programmes integrating radiation medicine.

Among the initiatives offered by PACT is the Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) Africa Pilot Project. The VUCCnet is designed to support African Member States in Africa in increasing number of trained professionals to fight cancer by employing a combination of e-learning and traditional teaching to provide customized, effective, low-cost educational opportunities for medical students and practitioners in pilot countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, in order for health professionals to make the greatest impact for cancer patients, it is also important that up-to-date technologies are available for diagnosis, treatment and palliative care. Foremost amongst the available technology options is radiotherapy, a powerful, essential, and yet expensive tool that many developing countries cannot afford to provide on a scale large enough to meet the growing demand for treatment. The Advisory Group on Increasing Access to Radiotherapy Technology in Low- and Middle Income Countries (AGaRT), another PACT initiative, is designed to act as a neutral facilitator, to bring together radiotherapy users with major radiotherapy suppliers, to encourage the development of radiotherapy units that are affordable, sustainable and suitable for low- and middle income countries, in order to increase global access to radiotherapy.

Delivering the Goods

The motto of this year's World Cancer Day is Together It Is Possible. Massoud Samiei, Head of the PACT Programme Office, finds the phrase fitting, particularly as "PACT relies heavily on partnerships." In the coming year, Samiei said that, "PACT will try to highlight the role its partners are playing in helping develop cancer control initiatives in developing countries. In particular, we would like to point out what we have accomplished in fundraising through the past year, because at the end of the day we need money to be able to do the job and deliver the goods." In PACT's partnership with the WHO, Samiei noted that, "We have continued to make progress in the last couple of years, especially in the area of joint work with the WHO in providing national assessments to help countries assess their cancer burden and understand the impact cancer has had on their society in order to strategically plan for the future," he added.

Through the establishment of PACT Model Demonstration Sites (PMDS), PACT utilises its international partnerships to mobilise new resources for health system development and the infrastructure that supports it. PMDS combine the individual strengths and resources of each partner and stakeholder to strengthen the fight against the cancer epidemic, and foster the establishment of sustainable cancer control capacity.

The "integrated missions of PACT (imPACT)" provide low- and middle income countries an evaluation of their readiness to implement cancer control programmes, an assessment of the national cancer burden, and recommendations on developing the cancer control capacity that is most urgently required.

Promising Prospects

In addressing the challenges ahead, Samiei once more underlined the importance of cooperation. "This year we would like to focus more on resource mobilisation. I think we have matured in certain areas, we have already visited nearly 40 countries, and we have prepared assessment reports and recommendations for these countries and have garnered strong support from ministries of health and other international organisations who are involved in our activities. I think it is now time to present the proposals that have been developed by Member States to the donors. In this area, I think we have a good chance to assist Member States in developing their comprehensive cancer control programmes."

-- By Petar Buselic, IAEA Division of Public Information


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