You are here

Expanding Access to Cancer Care in Tanzania: IAEA Supports Brachytherapy Machine Installation


The new brachytherapy machine was installed at the Ocean Road Cancer Institution. (Photo: IAEA)

Hundreds of women in Tanzania now have access to advanced cervical cancer treatment thanks to the delivery and installation of a high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy machine at the Ocean Road Cancer Institution (ORCI) in Dar es Salaam, coordinated by the IAEA. Since the machine’s installation in October last year, the IAEA has been facilitating training and the development of a treatment planning system to ensure its safe and effective use. The ORCI, alongside the Bugando Medical Centre (BMC) in Mwanza, is one of only two operational public cancer care facilities in Tanzania.  

“Tanzania is experiencing a rising cancer incidence in the past five years,” said Dr Shaid Omari Yusuph, a medical physicist at Ocean Road Institute, which falls under the purview of the Tanzanian Ministry of Health. “But since the launch of a series of IAEA projects, the cancer care facilities in Dar Es Salaam and in Bugando have seen a sharp rise in their capacities and in the number of cases managed each year.”  

In Tanzania cancer is the fifth leading cause of death among men and the second among women, with the most common cancers including cervical carcinoma, breast cancer, prostate carcinoma and other gynaecological cancers, which respond well to high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy. HDR brachytherapy involves a miniaturized encapsulated radioactive source being placed directly into or near the volume to be treated, allowing a high radiation dose to be delivered locally to a tumour with a sharp dose fall-off outside the tumour. Use of this type of treatment is generally limited to small, well-localized tumours and minimizes radiation effects on other tissues.

Cervical cancer affects more than 10 000 women per year in Tanzania, according to the Global Cancer Observatory. “Brachytherapy is an essential component in the treatment of this type of tumour, and the IAEA is committed to providing technical support to the country in order to enhance their brachytherapy programme,” said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health. “We are looking forward to continuing collaboration with Tanzanian authorities and health professionals for further improvement and expansion of the radiotherapy service in the country.” 

Until recently, many cancer patients in Tanzania were traditionally referred to private clinics abroad for further management, amounting to an average of 80 patients referred per year at a cost of nearly US$ 2 million to the Government of Tanzania. Through a series of IAEA technical cooperation projects in the last eight years, support has been extended to the ORCI and BMC to equip the hospitals with the necessary equipment and to build human capacity through Master programmes to enhance access to cancer patients’ diagnosis and treatment. 

“Together, the BMC and ORCI are now able to treat many cervix cancer patients per day using brachytherapy, and the training provided by the IAEA has allowed us to introduce 3D radiotherapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy and other advanced modalities,” said Dr Yusuph.  “In 2022, brachytherapy services have been offered by the BMC and ORCI to more than 340 cervix cancer patients.”  

Tanzania has recently requested to join the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, which will reinforce enhanced cancer management in the country.  

Stay in touch