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Uruguay takes decisive action to reverse high cancer incidence and mortality rates

Giovanni Saporiti, Lisa Berthelot

Experts from the IAEA, the WHO and the IARC reviewed Uruguay’s cancer services to provide advice to the Government on how to tackle the country’s growing cancer burden. (Photo: G. Saporiti/IAEA)

Experts rolled up their sleeves in Uruguay in the final weeks of 2021 as they assessed the country’s cancer control system and worked towards finding solutions to strengthen cancer control capacities and lower mortality rates. Together with the Ministry of Health and 20 national experts, the IAEA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) brought in an international team of specialists to focus on how to tackle these mortality rates, which remain high despite the medical expertise available in the country and the technological investments made in recent years.

Over five days at the end of December, an imPACT Review team of international experts met with almost 100 national stakeholders, including oncology physicians, nursing staff, hospital and laboratory technicians, and public administration officials. As part of the review, they visited seven public and nine private cancer facilities in both urban and rural parts of the country.

The imPACT Review team also travelled to the department of Florida (90 km north of Montevideo) to visit three of the main cancer facilities in rural Uruguay. The visit allowed the experts to consolidate an analysis of the urban and rural realities, and to develop a series of recommendations to strengthen access to cancer control services for the entire population.

Building on virtual meetings and workshops that had started in September, the experts held extensive discussions on Uruguay’s capabilities and needs in human resources, cancer detection, diagnostic and treatment technologies, as well as infrastructure.

“Receiving this imPACT mission is a great opportunity for Uruguay, as much for the medical staff as for the patients and us in the Ministry,” said Daniel Salinas, Minister of Health. “This joint mission provides us with an unbiased and transparent analysis of the current situation of our cancer control system, allowing us to develop solutions that aim to reach the highest international standards while respecting the specificities of our country.”

Delivering imPACT Reviews in hybrid format

The four most frequent types of cancer in Uruguay are breast, prostate, colorectal and lung cancers, as in other high-income countries. These four cancers are responsible for half of the 8000 annual cancer deaths in the country of 3.5 million every year. According to the National Cancer Registry, more than 16 000 new cancer cases are registered each year.

Uruguay’s cancer control and prevention system is made up of public and private providers, a national registry, civil society, administrations and public institutions. To tackle the cancer burden, the experts noted that an important effort of coordination between these parties is necessary to ensure a coherent and aligned strategy in line e with national health priorities and goals.

The imPACT Review team also recommended a focus on areas such as the promotion of comprehensive public cancer centres, the regulation of medical practices for the quality control and standardization of services, the technological renewal of equipment and training of staff with specific reference to the medical specialities needed in the centres. Such needs include radiotherapists, medical physicists, technicians and anatomy pathologists.

“The pandemic has taught us that imPACT missions, usually carried out in person, can benefit from a hybrid approach including a series of preliminary virtual meetings with the different counterparts. This allows us to allocate much more time during the country visit to discuss the quality of the services provided and the most realistic and consistent recommendations to overcome the limitations in the country,” said Andrés Córdova, a senior radiation oncologist from Chile and a member of the imPACT team. “The experience with Uruguay taught us that this new formula works and can be capitalized on for future reviews.”

Uruguay’s National Cancer Control Programme team and national experts appointed by the Ministry of Public Health accompanied the entire evaluation process, organizing and facilitating visits to cancer facilities and providing a local prospective for the analysis.

A workshop was organized on the last day of the mission to discuss the main findings and the preliminary recommendations with the Minister of Public Health and senior officials from the WHO and the IAEA to ensure the imPACT Review findings will contribute to and support national efforts.


imPACT Reviews

One of the main challenges countries face in successfully tackling their cancer burden is the ability to formulate realistic and robust cancer control strategies and plans, while considering available resources.

The IAEA supports countries in assessing their national cancer control capacities through imPACT Reviews, a unique assessment tool. Since 2005, the IAEA has conducted over 100 imPACT Reviews to assess countries’ cancer control capacities and needs and identify priority interventions.

Coordinated by the IAEA and conducted jointly with the WHO and the IARC, imPACT Reviews provide governments and their partners with a baseline situation analysis and a set of recommendations to guide cancer control planning and investments across the cancer control spectrum, from prevention to palliative care.

imPACT Reviews are comprised of three stages: a desk-review analysis of the national cancer control situation, an in-country mission and an imPACT Review report.

An imPACT Review benefits a country by:

1. Supporting national cancer control planning;

2. Prioritizing strengthened cancer registration systems;

3. Advocating for improved access to treatment;

4. Guiding the establishment of safe, high-quality radiation medicine services; and

5. Providing information on opportunities for resource mobilization and partnerships.



February, 2022
Vol. 63-1

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