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Inclusive and Collaborative Efforts to Strengthen Cancer Control in Tunisia


The Institut Salah-Azaïz (ISA) in Tunis is the national reference hospital for radiation medicine in Tunisia. (Photo: ISA)

The diagnosis and treatment of cancer in Tunisia has been significantly strengthened in recent years thanks to a strategic collaborative approach, which includes IAEA support. Cancer control progress in the country is particularly notable in the increased use of radiation medicine and more equitable patient access to nationwide services. New treatment techniques have also been introduced to address the changing types of cancer cases nationally and offer the best possible quality of care.

The Institut Salah-Azaïz (ISA) in Tunis is the national reference hospital in radiation medicine in Tunisia. Through a fruitful cooperation with the IAEA over the past 20 years, the ISA has successfully improved its technical capacities by introducing new radiation techniques and contributing to development and knowledge transfer to other institutions in Tunisia. The ISA stands at the forefront of radiation medicine innovation and contribution in the country.

The public and private health infrastructure is supported by an organized network of teaching hospitals and clinics, as well as by the National Cancer Control Programme established in 2001. The Programme coordinates Tunisia’s efforts to strengthen access to effective cancer services across all regions of the country.

Recommendations presented to the Ministry of Health during the imPACT Review conducted by the IAEA, WHO and IARC in 2013 served as a reference for the meeting's discussions. (Photo: ISA)

Convening key players

In March, the IAEA convened a two-day virtual meeting with several Tunisian participants, including Ministry of Health and other government representatives, cancer control stakeholders, the nuclear regulatory authority, and international experts. The objective was to assess the achievements of cancer control in the country, including through the implementation of recent projects under the IAEA technical cooperation programme in diagnostic imaging, radiotherapy and medical physics, and plan a strategy for the future. Tunisia’s 2022-2023 Technical Cooperation projects were discussed, as were inputs for the 2021-2026 Country Programme Framework.

“Cancer is the second cause of mortality in Tunisia,” said Noomene Elkadri, Director at the Ministry of Health, “and this consultation informed the ongoing development of the national health agenda and shape the new national cancer control programme. This consultation is also important to define the future priority areas of IAEA technical cooperation projects, such as the need to procure new state-of-the-art equipment, increase access to radiotherapy services, and strengthen the training of human resources.”

The meeting offered a rare opportunity to gather counterparts, stakeholders and partners from the national, regional and international levels to consider an integrated and inclusive approach in the implementation of a cancer control strategy in Tunisia.

This collaborative effort also contributed to leverage the complementary nature and linkage between policy and cancer control projects, and to harmonise radiation medicine and related safety and security considerations with the national health agenda.

imPACT Review recommendations

During the meeting, recommendations presented to the Ministry of Health during the imPACT Review conducted by the IAEA, WHO and IARC in 2013 also served as a reference for the discussion of major on-going national cancer control programmes, government strategies, and partner support. The recommendations included strengthening the national cancer registry, increasing equitable access to radiation medicine, and developing a national strategy for breast and colorectum cancer screening.

In light of the strengthened collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) – part of the WHO-IAEA Joint Programme on Cancer Control – time was dedicated during the webinar for technical and scientific officers to discuss progress, priorities, and gaps across the cancer control continuum with counterparts at the Ministry of Health. Together, they worked to identify synergies with IAEA projects in nuclear and radiation medicine.

“The fight against cancer is paramount in Tunisia, considering that there are approximately 18 000 new cancer cases each year. The IAEA, IARC and WHO’s coordinated efforts are essential to reduce the burden of the disease,” said Yves Souteyrand, WHO’s Representative in Tunisia. “WHO assisted Tunisia in the development of its non-communicable diseases strategy, which includes cancer, and is currently providing support to elaborate the operational plan.”

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