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Unlocking the Power of Partnerships and Innovative Financing for Improved Access to Cancer Care

Luka Vukadinovic

An oncology resident uses a donated CT simulator to analyse the scan of a patient at Ethiopia’s Black Lion Hospital. (Photo: M. Gaspar/IAEA)

Uzbekistan has been battling a growing cancer burden for years. The disease killed more than 20 000 people in 2020 and this number is expected to almost double by 2040, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Global Cancer Observatory. However, this may soon change thanks to support from the IAEA and its partners.

Within the framework of the partnership agreement between the IAEA and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the IAEA provided support to the Government of Uzbekistan with the elaboration of a bankable document — a detailed feasibility study that was used to successfully secure US $80 million in concessional financing from the IsDB. The money will support the Government’s efforts to enhance access to and quality of oncology services throughout the country.

Over the past decade, the international community has rallied behind policies to address the growing cancer burden, for example through the adoption of a resolution on cancer prevention and control approved at the 2017 World Health Assembly, the Global strategy to accelerate the elimination of cervical cancer as a public health problem and the Global Initiative for Childhood Cancer. However, these strategies have not yet received the implementation funding initially hoped to successfully fight the growing burden of non-communicable diseases.

Globally, all non-communicable diseases combined, including cancer, accounted for just two per cent of development assistance allocated to health between 2000 and 2018, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. This means that cancer is receiving a negligible share of financing, which is often directed towards prevention and screening programmes because of their cost-effectiveness. As a result, diagnosis and treatment remain grossly underfunded, and, today, 23 countries still completely lack radiation treatment facilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated this problem, as donors are channelling their efforts and resources to pandemic response, while the pandemic has also adversely impacted other health services, including cancer care, worldwide.

“This is why international financial institutions, such as the IsDB, are a major source of funding for developing countries, and their support has never been more critical,” said Cindy Kremer, Head of the Resource Mobilization Section at the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy. “This is particularly true when it comes to cancer care and the provision of essential equipment and infrastructure, such as bunkers that house radiation therapy machinery.”

Kremer said substantial financing for such investments is rarely provided through grants, so the IAEA is closely collaborating with the IsDB on funding developing countries through a multi-stakeholder blended financing structure involving the private sector.

However, the work does not stop there. To address the growing need for funds and maximize the impact of the new Rays of Hope initiative (read more here), the IAEA is taking steps to develop similar collaboration modalities with other financial institutions, as well as to expand existing and establish new partnerships with the private sector and philanthropic organizations, Kremer said.

[...] international financial institutions, such as the IsDB, are a major source of funding for developing countries, and their support has never been more critical. This is particularly true when it comes to cancer care and the provision of essential equipment and infrastructure, such as bunkers that house radiation therapy machinery.”
Cindy Kremer, Head, Resource Mobilization Section, Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, IAEA

Leveraging private sector finance and expertise

The private sector is a strategic development partner for the IAEA, offering expertise as well as innovative tools, technologies and resources that are crucial for reinforcing the organization’s impact on the ground, Kremer explained. Over the past several years, the IAEA has partnered with companies leading the development and delivery of cancer care solutions.

An example of this is a long-standing collaboration with Varian Medical Systems to help hospitals around the world deliver more precise radiotherapy doses and train health care workers. The equipment provided through this partnership helped the IAEA expand its dosimetry services to include electron beam audits. These audits, which now serve more than 300 hospitals each year, help ensure that the doses used to treat patients are high enough to be effective but not too high to cause undue harm.

Quality assurance programmes of this kind help ensure that cancer patients receive safe and effective radiotherapy treatment. Lora Ioannou and Stefani Stefanou, Radiotherapy Medical Physicists from the Bank of Cyprus Oncology Centre in Nicosia, have relied on the IAEA for dosimetry audits of the photon beams in their hospital for many years. “We welcome the inclusion of electron beam audits because we will be able to confirm the accuracy of the doses we deliver to our patients that are treated with electron beams,” Ioannou said.

Similarly, the IAEA has recently partnered with the Global Access to Cancer Care Foundation (GACCF), a leading cancer care organization with an expansive network of partners in industry and academia that provides oncology education programmes in low and middle income countries. The strategic alliance is enhancing training for cancer care professionals in nuclear medicine and radiation therapy through on-location teaching courses and allows the IAEA to leverage the expertise of the private sector to deliver cutting-edge care to a large number of patients across the developing world.

“GACCF is on the front lines, providing life-saving cancer treatment education for medical specialists and creating access to radiotherapy treatments throughout the developing world. Together with the IAEA, we are able to provide cancer care professionals with the education and tools they need to save lives,” said Tonya Steiner, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of GACCF. The partnership, however, goes beyond capacity building to include outreach activities and awareness-raising programmes through relevant regional/global initiatives and high-level events with key partners and stakeholders.


February, 2022
Vol. 63-1

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