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IAEA Promotes Closer Cooperation at the First Ladies International Symposium on the Burden of Cancer in Africa

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IAEA Director of the Technical Cooperation Division for Africa, Shaukat Abdulrazak, joins African First Ladies at the African Union Assembly side event. (Photo: Government of Niger)

In early July, the African Union (AU) held a summit in Niamey, Niger to explore the possibility of a new, continental trade agreement. At the same time, leveraging the opportunity provided by the ongoing event, the First Ladies of the AU’s Member States met to discuss how best to address the growing burden of cancer on the continent. Held on 5 and 6 July, the First Ladies International Symposium on the Burden of Cancer in Africa was organized by the Government of Niger and aimed to generate commitment from all stakeholders to implement concrete measures to address cancer.

Speaking to African First Ladies on the margins of the 12th Extraordinary Session of the Assembly of African Union, Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the IAEA Technical Cooperation Division for Africa, explained the role of the IAEA in cancer treatment and encouraged greater cooperation between the Agency, African governments and other international organizations in order to tackle the challenge of cancer. “Improving access to effective cancer services in African countries requires the commitment of the relevant national authorities to develop, secure resources and implement its cancer control strategy,” said Director Abdulrazak.  

During the opening ceremony of the conference, President Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, President Idrissa Deby of Chad and President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso all expressed their dedication to rallying support, resources and partners in the fight against cancer, which has risen to become a leading cause of death in Africa.

In his statement, Abdulrazak clarified the vital role played by the IAEA in the ongoing efforts to expand access to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment options. “Cancer is one of the leading causes of death globally. In 2018, an estimated 9.6 million people died from this disease, 70% of whom lived in low- and middle-income countries, where access to services is limited at best,” he said. “Twenty-three countries in Africa alone have no access to radiotherapy, an essential tool in the treatment of cancer.”

Director Abdulrazak delivers a prepared statement during the First Ladies International Symposium on the Burden of Cancer in Africa. (Photo: A. Elrefaei/IAEA)

Mr Abdulrazak further emphasized the obstacles preventing more effective cancer control and highlighted the solutions provided by the IAEA to address them. “Conditions such as poorly-coordinated referral systems, limited national coverage, insufficient capacity, an under-skilled workforce, inadequate equipment or a lack of a safety regulatory infrastructure” can all limit the effectiveness of cancer control plans and activities. For these reasons, the IAEA works closely with Member States to “enhance the capacities of medical staff through education and training in the areas of radiation oncology and nuclear medicine,” he said.

 “We need to change our perspective on cancer, so that it is no longer perceived as a condemnation to certain death, because it is curable,” said Malika Issoufou, First Lady of Niger. “We need to change the outlook we have, because in Africa cancer kills more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis together.” In her call for cancer control, she stressed the necessity to implement mass-screening policies as part of large-scale prevention campaigns, as well as the need to develop concrete, synergistic actions between states in order to complement the shared skills and equipment of African countries.

First Lady Sika Bella Kabore of Burkina Faso read out the joint appeal by Conference participants: “We, the First Ladies of Africa, would like to make an appeal to the international community, to the African Union, to regional and sub-regional organizations, civil societies, governments and all stakeholders to support this initiative to control cancer, including its prevention and management.”

In their appeal for more effective measures to fight against cancer, the First Ladies launched a call for cancer to be included in strategic healthcare planning of AU Member States, at both the national and sub-reginal levels. They also called for higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and other cancer-causing products. The First Ladies called for mobilizing resources in the fight against cancer in Africa and to develop a platform for monitoring impact and progress in this area.

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