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Continued Collaboration Key to Tackling Cancer, Cardiovascular Disease and Malnutrition – IAEA Addresses WHO Meeting

Lisa Stevens (Director IAEA PACT), May Abdel-Wahab (Director IAEA Division of Human Health) and Cornelia Loechl, Head of IAEA’s Nutritional and Health-Related Environmental Studies Section delivering the IAEA statements at the WHO Executive Board’s 150th

Lisa Stevens (Director of the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy), May Abdel-Wahab (Director the IAEA Division of Human Health) and Cornelia Loechl (Head of IAEA’s Nutritional and Health-Related Environmental Studies Section) delivered statements at the WHO Executive Board meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. (Photo: M. Singelee/IAEA and A.Vargas/IAEA)

Continued collaboration between the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) is essential to support low- and middle- income countries in tackling non-communicable diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, as well as in combatting malnutrition, using nuclear techniques. That was the message delivered by IAEA speakers during the 150th Session of the annual WHO Executive Board in Geneva, Switzerland last week.

Addressing delegates representing ministries of health from across the globe, Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, said that through joint activities with WHO involving nuclear medicine and radiotherapy, the IAEA has contributed to global cancer initiatives in combatting and treating cervical, childhood and breast cancers. The IAEA has been collaborating with the WHO in these areas for many decades, she added.

Partnerships between the IAEA, WHO and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have led to reviews of the cancer control programmes of more than 95 countries. The reviews and the resulting recommendations have helped improve services, mobilize partnerships and resources. The service, known as an imPACT Review, involves engaging global experts to advise national cancer teams on designing realistic and effective national cancer control programmes (NCCPs), tailored to each country’s needs.

“We look forward to 2022 bringing an even stronger collaboration with the WHO,” said Stevens. “Joint WHO-IAEA guidance is essential to support countries in addressing non-communicable diseases.”

Scientific collaboration

The IAEA’s mandate also supports countries in ensuring appropriate, safe and quality clinical practice when using radiation, through dosimetry. The IAEA/WHO joint postal dose service, launched over 50 years ago, enables countries to receive support to verify the calibration of their equipment. It has provided a cost-free service to thousands of radiotherapy centres around the world to support hospitals in improving the accuracy and consistency of dosimetry in radiation therapy.

In addition to calibration audits, research in the IAEA dosimetry laboratory supports the implementation of new codes of practice. One example is a new audit tool for verifying fields used in complex radiotherapy based on the first international code of practice for small static fields.

The IAEA is also working closely with WHO on guidance documents and publications, such as the WHO List of Priority Medical Devices for Cancer Management, and in 2021 the ‘Technical specifications of radiotherapy equipment for cancer treatment’.

Currently, the IAEA is participating in the development of an international classification and nomenclature of medical devices by the WHO, in order to increase safety and access to treatment.  “We look forward to contributing to the goal of uniform diction in representing these technologies through an international classification, coding and nomenclature for medical devices relating to patient safety, access to medical devices for universal health coverage, quality of healthcare and achievement of the SDGs,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health, addressing the meeting.

Nuclear techniques to help combat malnutrition

A key area of the IAEA’s work is in the use of nuclear and isotopic techniques to support countries in combatting various forms of malnutrition. These techniques generate accurate data that provides evidence for improving nutrition interventions and programmes in countries. They enable nutrition and health professionals to assess body composition and bone density, breastfeeding practices, micronutrient absorption from foods, the link between acute malnutrition and later diseases, and to understand the evolution of childhood obesity.

The IAEA has collaborated with WHO on addressing the double burden of malnutrition – undernutrition and obesity – through a jointly organized international symposium. The IAEA and WHO are currently collaborating on a research project to enhance knowledge on the link between early life nutrition and later childhood health.

“Nearly every country in the world is affected by malnutrition and many experience multiple burdens of malnutrition,” said Cornelia Loechl, Head of the IAEA’s Nutritional and Health-Related Environmental Studies Section, addressing the meeting. “The results from this joint project will help to understand the effectiveness of early life interventions to reduce later childhood obesity and the impact of different nutrition interventions on lean tissue accretion in moderately malnourished children.”

Loechl explained that the IAEA is also supporting improved clinical outcomes in cancer through building capacity in nuclear nutrition techniques. “Up to 80 per cent of cancer patients suffer from malnutrition during their treatment,” she said. “Most of these cases go undetected and clinical outcomes are impacted.”

The IAEA’s statements help to inform the WHO’s Executive Board on the IAEA’s efforts to address non-communicable diseases, medical devices and help combat malnutrition. 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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