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Ensuring cancer care for all

Rafael Mariano Grossi

“Millions of people affected by cancer today live without any hope of treatment. Through Rays of Hope, we are determined to change that.”

— Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General, IAEA

Cancer kills far too many people, particularly in developing countries. Our new initiative, Rays of Hope, sets out to change that by supporting the establishment and expansion of radiotherapy services, medical imaging and nuclear medicine — focusing on the more than 20 IAEA Member States that completely lack facilities for radiation treatment and those that need expansion.

With more than 19 million new cases and 10 million deaths in 2020 alone, the global cancer burden is expected to grow to 30 million new cases and 16.3 million cancer deaths annually by 2040. The disease places its heaviest burden on low and middle income countries, where over 70 per cent of cancer deaths are expected to occur.

Africa, where cancer kills more people than malaria and tuberculosis combined, carries a disproportionate share of the burden. Cancer cases will increase as Africa’s population grows and economic progress raises life expectancy. That is why I launched Rays of Hope at the African Union on this year’s World Cancer Day, and why the first countries involved in the initiative are from Africa.

It is estimated that half of cancer patients require radiotherapy at some point, and that this ratio is significantly higher in countries with less diagnosis capacity, where cancer is often discovered in the late stages. Tragically, over half the population in low and middle income countries, including 70 per cent of Africans, do not have access to radiotherapy. The situation is most acute in countries that completely lack facilities and trained personnel in radiotherapy. This unequal burden is unacceptable, and closing the cancer care gap in Africa must be prioritized.

For six decades, the IAEA has been a key player in the fight against cancer. We provide services supporting Member States in cancer treatment quality assurance and in improving national cancer control programmes. The IAEA is a nexus of knowledge for radiotherapy, nuclear medicine and diagnostic imaging, and globally helps facilitate training for cancer health workers. We convene cancer experts to accelerate innovation in cancer solutions and support countries in accessing equipment that is critical in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

But addressing the growing global cancer burden requires us and the international community to step up our efforts. By 2040, annual cancer cases in Africa are expected to double, with death rates exceeding the global average by almost a third.

Rays of Hope will strengthen national cancer control programmes and establish the first radiotherapy centres in countries without this life-saving technology and knowledge. Our initiative will help develop and expand infrastructure and capacity, and support innovation and the development of sustainable cancer solutions. Finally, Rays of Hope will strengthen international collaboration and enable developing countries to support one another through the establishment of regional ‘anchor centres’ of expertise.

Millions of people affected by cancer today live without any hope of treatment. Through Rays of Hope, we are determined to change that.


February, 2022
Vol. 63-1

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