IAEA & WHO Join Forces for Better Cancer Care in East-Med Region

Hussein Al Gezairy, Regional Director, WHO (EMRO) (left) and Massoud Samiei, Head, IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) at the signing ceremony. (Photo credit: D. Calma/IAEA)

In a first step to improve cancer prevention and treatment in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the IAEA and World Health Organisation´s (WHO) regional office will work together on several fronts under a new agreement.

Cancer is the fourth biggest killer in the Eastern Mediterranean region, the WHO estimates, and medical researchers see trouble ahead. They anticipate that the incidence of cancer could increase by as much as 180% in the next 15 years. The region includes Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

"We need more exchange of information, higher levels of awareness, and better levels of cancer care and treatment," said Massoud Samiei, who heads the IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). Right now, cancer risk factors in the region are inadequately studied and early screening and prevention are not sufficiently developed, he says.

"In the past twenty years a large fraction of cancers have turned from fatal to curable in western countries largely due to improvement of early detection," said Dr. Hussein Al Gezairy, WHO´s Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean region. "Unfortunately, this may not be the same for the Eastern Mediterranean region where late detection and diagnosis is a major setback which is perpetuating the stigma that cancer is equal to death. We believe that this stigma can be reversed," Dr. Al Gezairy said.

The new IAEA/WHO agreement – executed through a Memorandum of Understanding signed at a meeting in Vienna in late April 2006 - emphasizes the urgency of exchanging information and sharing expertise and resources in the fight against cancer.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei opened the two-day Vienna gathering. Some 50 participants from 14 organizations debated concrete strategies for concerted action against cancer in low- and middle-income nations.

"Only through inter-agency collaboration can developing nations have the assistance needed to provide a better chance of survival for current patients and prevent future victims of cancer," he said.

Cancer today is the second leading cause of death worldwide; it claims more lives than HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined. The same is true for the Eastern Mediterranean region with 272, 000 cancer deaths per year. The WHO predicts that without urgent action, cancer deaths will increase by 20% in the next 10 years. More than 70% of all cancer deaths now occur in low- and middle-income countries, where resources for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer are limited or non-existent.

PACT was founded in 2004 within the IAEA to respond to the chronic shortage of cancer treatment capacity in developing countries.

Vienna Meeting Background:

The April meeting brought together, for the first time, all the organizations capable of providing comprehensive cancer control in the developing world. Attending were representatives from WHO headquarters as well as WHO regional representatives from Africa, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, South East Asia and the WHO´s International Agency for Research on Cancer, the International Union Against Cancer, International Network for Cancer Treatment and Research, the Open Society Institute, the US National Cancer Institute, C-Change, Oxford University Institute of Cancer Medicine, the American Cancer Society and the World Bank.

The meeting formalized a common commitment to building up capacities for cancer care at the global, regional and country levels. The importance of placing cancer on the global health agenda united the participants in calling for coordinated action on developing multi-disciplinary regional training networks in all of the six regions of WHO, and collaboration on raising inter-agency awareness and building capabilities for advocacy.

This emerging alliance of partners will meet again at the World Cancer Congress in July 2006 in Washington DC to discuss specific implementation frameworks and fundraising strategies.

Last update: 11 November 2014