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Cancer, Pandemics and Emergency Response: IAEA Highlights Nuclear Role in Health Care at WHO Meeting


The IAEA delivered statements to the 152nd session of the WHO Executive Board, in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: WHO/Pierre Albouy)

From the urgent need to close the cancer treatment gap in low- and middle-income countries, to better prevention against disease outbreaks and effective health care emergency response, collaboration between the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) is essential, the IAEA said at the WHO’s 152nd Executive Board meeting.

High-level delegates from ministries of health across the globe were informed of the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, launched last year by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, which has galvanized stakeholders including international organizations and the private sector to improve human health and mobilize support in making radiology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy accessible to countries where it is needed most, particularly in Africa.

“Together, and with Rays of Hope adding new impetus, the IAEA and WHO remain committed to upscaling our long-standing close collaboration to help countries improve cancer control planning, ensure the safe delivery of cancer treatment and to provide joint guidance on important topics relating to cancer, among others,” said Meena Singelee, Head of the IAEA Liaison Office in Geneva, who delivered the IAEA’s statement at the meeting.

 “The IAEA continues to work in close collaboration with the WHO and our common Member States around the world on human health and non-communicable diseases,” she said. The IAEA statement highlighted the importance of working together to combat cancer, as well as to guard against threats of zoonotic diseases and other emerging and re-emerging diseases.

The IAEA also continues its work with key partners such as WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC): through the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) the IAEA has conducted cancer control assessments, known as imPACT Reviews, in more than 110 countries since 2004 and is currently working with more than 15 countries to develop their national cancer control plans.

Response to health emergencies

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to threaten lives and economies, the IAEA highlighted the global urgency to understand and guard against new and existing zoonotic diseases and noted the significant growth of its Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action (ZODIAC) network over the past few years. The network now comprises 150 ZODIAC National Coordinators and a network of 126 ZODIAC National Laboratories around the world, strengthening the preparedness and national capabilities to respond to the threats of zoonotic diseases.

“We have trained over one-thousand nationals from over one hundred Member States through virtual training courses and hands-on training on whole-genome sequencing at the IAEA’s nuclear application laboratories in Seibersdorf,” Singelee said. The IAEA’s ZODIAC Portal, released last year and providing free, publicly available educational videos and training materials to support countries to be better prepared to detect, identify and fight new viruses as early as possible, attracts 1000 visitors every month.

The IAEA has also been working closely with WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to fight the recent outbreaks of Mpox and Lassa Fever.

In response to the Ukrainian authorities’ requests for assistance to resolve current challenges in providing safe cancer care, the IAEA and WHO are planning a joint mission to Ukraine to assess the current status of cancer care services in the country and to enhance capacity in cancer management. The mission follows the approval by the IAEA Board of Governors of a technical cooperation project to strengthen radiation imaging and medical imaging in the country.

“We look forward to continuing our close engagement with partners like WHO and others to support better preparedness for, and response to, health emergencies for the benefit of all our Member States,” Singelee said.

The IAEA’s statements to the WHO’s Executive Board are informing their common Member States about the work of the IAEA and highlighting the importance to join efforts to ensure that cancer treatment reaches those in need, as well as to guard against threats of zoonotic and other emerging and re-emerging diseases. The Executive Board is a governing body of the WHO and is responsible for setting the agenda of the annual World Health Assembly.

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