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A New, More Hopeful Waiting List Forms in Zambia

No longer facing endless waiting lists for treatment abroad: cancer patients wait for radiotherapy in Zambia's newly opened Cancer Diseases Hospital. (Photo: A. Leuker/IAEA)

A dream came true in Lusaka, Zambia this month with the official opening of the Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH), the country´s first specialized cancer treatment and radiotherapy centre. Now the focus is to turn the dream into a reality for the rising number of men, women and children who urgently need cancer care in the country.

Zambian President Levy Patrick Mwanawasa called the hospital "the culmination of a vision", which major stakeholders like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had helped to realize through continuous support over many years. "This hospital will be able to provide what has been a costly and often restricted medical service to our people afflicted by various forms of cancer," he said at the opening ceremony 19 July 2007.

From its inception, the Zambian government´s dream to build a cancer hospital was supported and guided by the IAEA through its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP). IAEA experts helped prepare a detailed project proposal which in 2002 allowed Zambia to secure a $5.6 million loan from the OPEC Fund for International Development. At every stage of planning, constructing and equipping the hospital, expert services were on call to provide advice and solutions. TCP also contributed more than US$ 500,000 towards the training of personnel in key areas such as medical physics, radiotherapy and equipment maintenance.

"The Agency is pleased to have been a key partner to the government in this important endeavour to provide quality care for Zambia´s cancer patients," said Ali Boussaha, Director of the Department of Technical Cooperation´s Africa Division. "The commitment of the Zambian government has been remarkable throughout the project. The IAEA is currently supporting efforts towards establishing radiotherapy capabilities in other African Member States following this model of partnership."

Cancer is on the increase in Zambia. Estimates suggest there are more than 7,000 new cases a year, the most common being cervical cancer. The only course of action for the Zambian government until now was to send cancer patients to South Africa or Zimbabwe for treatment. But with limited funds available, patients were put onto waiting lists which were hopelessly - often fatally - long.

It cost the government up to $10,000 for each patient sent abroad for treatment. That money will now be ploughed back into the CDH, along with the fees paid by private patients. In this way, the CDH aims to ensure sustainability and develop the hospital into a regional centre of excellence for all aspects of cancer treatment.

Many countries in the developing world are facing a cancer crisis, with few resources to combat the increasing incidence of the disease. In the CDH, the Zambian government made a bold and costly investment in the future health of the nation. But this is just the beginning. "Now that the Zambian people have access to radiotherapy, public awareness of cancer and its treatment should be made part and parcel of the goals of health control," said President Mwanawasa.

The IAEA remains committed to helping Zambia realize those goals and turn the dream of quality cancer care into reality. Further assistance will be provided to train additional medical staff and establish a quality assurance (QA) programme at the CDH for the safe and effective delivery of radiotherapy services.


The IAEA supports cancer care and treatment through various channels. The Technical Cooperation Programme is the key mechanism for planning and delivery of radiotherapy assistance to Africa and other regions. The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) is a broad-based global partnership that aims to help developing countries build a comprehensive, sustainable cancer control programme integrating prevention, screening, treatment and palliative care.