“Cancer in Africa is very much a women’s issue,” IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in Nairobi on Saturday.
In three separate speaking engagements at the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), which was held in Africa for the first time, he highlighted the work of the IAEA in making nuclear technology available for development.
Mr Amano focused in particular on cancer, noting that breast and cervical cancer are an important focus of IAEA technical cooperation in many African countries.
TICAD is an initiative launched by the Japanese government in 1993 to bring the world’s attention to Africa’s development needs and promote high-level policy dialogue between African leaders and development partners. This year, for the first time, health was one of the main themes.
At a seminar for First Ladies entitled Investing in Maternal and Child Health for Social Transformation in Africa, Mr Amano highlighted the IAEA’s work in a wide range of areas related to the health of mothers and children. IAEA activities include making nuclear techniques available to help determine whether breast-fed babies are getting enough nutrients and to assess the Vitamin A status of young children. He also explained the IAEA’s role in the fight against the Ebola and Zika epidemics.
Mr Amano said he had made cancer control in developing countries a priority for the IAEA. The fact that millions of cancer patients in developing countries died of conditions that could be treatable if adequate cancer care were available was a human tragedy. It was important for world leaders to understand the scale of the problem.
The IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) helps countries to devise comprehensive cancer control programmes. The Agency’s work covers cancer diagnosis and treatment and involves helping countries to use nuclear medicine and radiotherapy effectively.
“Safety is crucially important when nuclear and radioactive materials are being used,” Mr Amano said, stressing that cancer patients must receive correct doses of radiation. The IAEA has a special dosimetry laboratory to help countries ensure that radiotherapy equipment is correctly calibrated.
Tangible progress had been made in cancer care in many African countries in recent years, Mr Amano said.
“New specialist cancer centres have been established. Radiation oncologists and medical physicists are returning home after receiving intensive training abroad with the support of the Agency,” he added. However, the needs remain great.
Mr Amano said development banks and other funding organisations were not always aware of the seriousness of the cancer problem in Africa.
“I know that you are raising your voices,” he told his African listeners. “But if cancer is a major priority for your country, please make sure that all of your international partners keep getting the message.” He pledged to do his part in raising awareness and said the Agency would continue to provide concrete assistance to developing countries.
Cancer control in Africa in general, and in Kenya in particular, was one of the main topics Mr Amano discussed in meetings with Kenya's First Lady Margaret Kenyatta on Friday and with the country’s Deputy President William Ruto on Sunday.
Promoting resilient health systems
Speaking at a TICAD session on Promoting Resilient Health Systems for Quality of Life, Mr Amano said the IAEA was committed to helping developing countries to gain access to modern nuclear technology for peaceful uses and to build expertise to make significant improvements in the health of their people.
The IAEA is a technical organisation with the mandate of Atoms for Peace and Development. By working closely with key partners such as the World Health Organization and leading NGOs, the IAEA helps countries gain access to technologies that can save lives, Mr Amano said.
Role of Science and Technology in SDGs
At the Science and Technology in Society Forum, a discussion platform for policy-makers, academics and business leaders on the application of science and technology in society, Mr Amano said science and technology were fundamental for development.
He welcomed the fact that the importance of science and technology had been recognised in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by world leaders in 2015. Apart from its enormous value in health care, nuclear technology was also very effective in areas such as water management, agriculture and protection of the environment.
Many African countries had considerable expertise in these areas which they shared with other African nations. There were many excellent examples of active South-South cooperation.
Mr Amano stressed the importance of technology transfer and the IAEA’s role in capacity building, adding: “The IAEA is a steadfast partner to African counties.”
If cancer is a major priority for your country, please make sure that all of your international partners keep getting the message.