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IAEA and Islamic Development Bank Look to Partners and Innovative Financing Models to Fight Women’s Cancers

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How can we best pool resources and expertise to help ensure that every woman has a fair chance against cancer? This was the question at the heart of the discussion during a series of virtual roundtables, organized by the IAEA and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), which brought together existing and interested supporters of the IsDB-IAEA Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative.  Speakers explored ways to grow the Initiative’s reach by pooling resources.

Three roundtable meetings took place over the summer hosted by Bandar Hajjar, IsDB’s President, and Rafael Mariano Grossi, IAEA’s Director General. Each was attended by more than 40 existing donors and new partners committed to addressing the growing burden of women’s cancers in low- and middle-income countries and ensuring that all women, including the most vulnerable, have access to timely diagnosis and treatment.

“Significant investments involving a broad range of partners in comprehensive cancer control are crucial to improving the quality of life of women affected by cancer while at the same time strengthening national health systems,” Hajjar said. “The need to address women’s cancers as a matter of priority and to scale-up effective diagnosis and treatment has become pressing.”

The cancer funding gap

Effectively addressing women’s cancers requires closing the funding gap in research, surveillance, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of the disease. The IAEA has for many years been providing support and expert assistance to countries in the use of nuclear techniques, including radiotherapy, to address cancer.

Despite cancer’s global prevalence and the increasing cancer burden, which kills over 9.6 million people each year, the current resources available to fight it are insufficient to meet the need. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the fragility of health systems in certain countries, especially related to cancer patients.

Recognizing the financial needs required to address this massive global burden, especially amid a worldwide pandemic, Grossi said the IAEA and IsDB are reaching beyond their traditional pool of government donors. “The IAEA and IsDB have invested significant resources and expertise in the area of cancer, but this is still not enough,” he said. “We need to further strengthen our collaboration with the private sector, foundations and multilateral institutions. We all have a role to play and together, we can demonstrate that smart investments will have long-lasting, sustainable results for women and girls.”

“Engaging the private sector ensures that women with cancer can benefit from the latest expertise in research and innovation, with foundations helping to build awareness and reach out to local communities,” said Lisa Stevens, Director for the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy. “Support from multilateral institutions can assist in addressing gaps in cancer care systems. When these public and private sector actors come together and pool their resources, this is known as blended financing. This innovative approach is one of the most effective ways to close the funding gap needed to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which includes strengthening health care systems and reducing mortality among women affected by breast and cervical cancer,” she added.

New partners to the Initiative

During the discussions, the governments of Sweden and Belgium made new commitments to the Initiative. This was the second pledge from Sweden, who previously supported the Initiative alongside France, Monaco, Russia and the United States of America as well as several private sector partners.

“Sweden is very pleased to have joined forces with the IAEA and the IsDB as a partner and contributor to the Saving Women’s Lives from Cancer Initiative,” said Jan Lodding, Minister Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Sweden in Vienna. “I would encourage more partners to join this crucial Initiative which works to achieve tangible results and long-lasting changes for women and adolescent girls.”

Projects related to the Initiative will expand breast and cervical cancer control programmes, including the upgrade of over 40 cancer facilities around the world through the procurement of equipment, the specialist training of 100 cancer care professionals – such as radiation oncologists, medical physicists and oncology nurses – and the strengthening of quality assurance in the use of nuclear and radiation medicine. The Initiative will also help support the new WHO Global Strategy for the Elimination of Cervical Cancer, which sets aspirational goals, such as ensuring 90 per cent of women identified with cervical cancer have access to quality treatment and care by 2030.

“What we need now more than ever is a strong and coordinated response. With so much attention going to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to bring together all our energies and all our support for the other causes we’ve been working on for some time now,” said Ghislain D’hoop, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the International Organizations in Vienna.

D’hoop discussed the benefits of project-based funding to reach the most vulnerable and pledged additional funds to support cervical cancer projects in selected African countries. “Through our policies in the field, we must never forget to focus on reaching those women in need directly, as our first priority,” he added.

A side event, planned on the sidelines of the 64th IAEA General Conference, will provide an opportunity for countries benefitting from the Initiative to share updates on their progress. The winners of the IsDB-IAEA Call for Innovation, a competition to find and reward creative and sustainable solutions for improved access to effective breast and cervical cancer care in developing countries, will also be announced.

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