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Bringing Cancer Care Closer to Home: Mauritania Opens First Nuclear Medicine Centre

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Mauritania, nuclear medicine centre, radiotherapy, cancer, IAEA

The opening of Mauritania’s first ever nuclear medicine centre with IAEA support last month will lead to comprehensive services in diagnosing, treating and managing cancer and other diseases in Mauritania and the surrounding region. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

Nouakchott, Mauritania — The opening of Mauritania’s first ever nuclear medicine centre with IAEA support last month will lead to improved access to modern diagnostics and treatment, as well as lower costs. The new facility is part of the country’s National Oncology Centre, which opened in 2010. The centres offer comprehensive services in diagnosing, treating and managing cancer and other diseases in Mauritania and the surrounding region.

“We are very enthusiastic about this relationship [with the IAEA], which has begun to deliver very positive results in a very short time,” said Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Mauritania, at the inauguration of the new facility. “In terms of medical treatment of cancer, we are now in a fairly comfortable position in the sub-region.”

Nuclear medicine and radiotherapy are two key areas of medicine that use radiation and atoms that emit radiation, known as radionuclides, to diagnose, treat and manage diseases.

For an audio feature on the opening of the nuclear medicine centre, including an interview with President Abdel Aziz, listen to our IAEA Talk podcast: La transformation du traitement du cancer en Mauritanie.

Facing cancer head-on

Cancer is increasingly recognized as a major public health problem across Africa. The burden of the disease has worsened as rising living standards have led to lifestyle and environmental changes that increase the incidence of cancer, such as unhealthy diets, pollution and physical inactivity.

For many years, Mauritania, one of Africa’s 34 least developed countries, has struggled to address the financial and human costs related to cancer. Haematological malignancies and solid tumours, for example, require specialized treatments that were not available at Mauritanian hospitals, requiring patients to seek treatment abroad. Cancer of the cervix, breast, prostate, liver and ovary are among the most common in the country.

Today, Mauritania offers patients options for care closer to home. The two centres provide radiotherapy and nuclear medicine services using a linear particle accelerator and a high-dose brachytherapy machine. They also employ more than 20 medical professionals trained through IAEA fellowships, training courses and expert visits.

“There were huge challenges ahead of us. We had no infrastructure, no equipment and no human resources to treat our patients,” said Moustapha Mounah, Director of the National Oncology Centre. “Now, after four years, Mauritania is able to conduct radiotherapy and nuclear medicine, with very sophisticated materials, and operated by Mauritanians.”

Supporting transformation through cooperation

The IAEA has supported Mauritania since 2004 through its technical cooperation programme, assisting the government to transform the country into a nation able to safely and cost-effectively use nuclear techniques. The country now uses nuclear technologies and tools to fight pests and animal disease, map water tables underground, as well as monitor and measure radiation dose levels to protect health care professionals, the public and the environment from ionizing radiation. It is also training engineers and economists to use energy planning tools and databases related to nuclear energy.

Although Mauritania still has plenty to do, the country has made great strides in a few short years, giving patients access to better care closer to home that will undoubtedly impact the fight against cancer, President Abdel Aziz said. “We believe that in the future this important relationship for our country, and a model in the sub-region, will continue to evolve. Given these developments, we are very confident that things will continue to improve,” he said.

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