• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

You are here

Partnerships for Rays of Hope Initiative Key in Supporting Cancer Care: Scientific Forum Closes


The IAEA's two-day Scientific Forum closed today. The event highlighted the Agency's Rays of Hope initiative, which was launched in March 2022 and builds upon the IAEA's six decades of expertise in nuclear science to diagnose and treat different types of tumours. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Stakeholders must work together to amplify their efforts to deliver impactful, sustainable, innovative cancer care that reaches everyone in need, participants of the IAEA Scientific Forum organized on the side-lines of the General Conference concluded today.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in six deaths around the world can be attributed to cancer, with 70 per cent of deaths occurring in low- and middle-income countries. One-third of all cancers can be prevented and some of the most common forms — including cervical, breast, head and neck, and colorectal cancers — can be cured with the right combination of skills, training, and technology in radiation medicine. However, such technology is not available to everyone, with radiotherapy, for example, often a life-saving technique, accessible only to 10 per cent of people in low-income countries.

“We have a moral responsibility not to let these people die. The new IAEA initiative called Rays of Hope is for everyone, it is raising hope,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the two-day Forum during which experts, doctors, patient advocates, private sector representatives and high-level speakers from countries discussed the way forward. “Rays of Hope needs you, all of you,” Mr Grossi said. “We must unify our distorted efforts and translate them into very specific results.”

At the event, which took place on the side-lines of the IAEA’s 66th general Conference, Rays of Hope was highlighted by speakers as the main tool for further cooperation. The initiative was launched in 2022 at the African Union Summit and builds upon the Agency’s six decades of expertise in nuclear science to diagnose and treat different types of tumours.

To leverage the IAEA experience and to establish and expand diagnostic and treatment services, the Agency and key stakeholders — including governments, the private sector, financial institutions, other international organizations such as WHO, development agencies and professional societies — agreed on the need to continue working together as a collation of partners, to forge new partnerships, and to strengthen those that exist. Such partnerships need to be built on a global but also a regional level, and one way would be to leverage centres of excellence, that could provide much of the training and quality assurance to countries nearby, through Rays of Hope, participants heard.

Speakers also agreed on the need to tap into diverse funding sources to extend the reach of Rays of Hope, which has to date received roughly €12 million in funding. During the General Conference, several partners presented new donations in support of the initiative, including Belgium, which announced its largest ever financial contribution; the Principality of Monaco, which signed its first multi-year agreement with the IAEA in support of the flagship cancer initiative, and the Korea Nuclear International Cooperation Fund (KONICOF), which gathered donations from the South Korean public to support cancer control in Ethiopia through Rays of Hope. Algeria also offered its help in training personnel for the region.

The Forum concluded that funding can be used to harness the international community’s help in making a long-term difference to address the gap between a country’s capacities and its growing needs. Such an approach should be tailored to every country and built upon four pillars: supporting capacity-building and training, boosting innovation, enhancing the sustainability of services, and procuring equipment. Setting up and operating a radiotherapy unit able to treat 500 patients per year, participants heard, can cost USD 7.5 million.

Five sessions at a glance

Five sessions spread over a day and a half focused on different elements of how to improve cancer care. Following statements of the high-level speakers in the opening session, the speakers in the first session discussed the important role of and access to radiation technologies in the medical management of cancer patients around the world. “Radiotherapy offers both cure and symptom control for patients with cancer. I strongly believe the global community has enough resources to make meaningful changes in countries where radiotherapy is needed the most,” said Soehartati Gondhowiardjo, a radiation oncologist and senior consultant at the Cipto Mangunkusumo National General Hospital in Indonesia about radiotherapy, which is still not available in 20 countries in the world.

Speakers also emphasized the need to upscale access to imaging and nuclear medicine, essential for the management of cancer patients. “Improving access to medical imaging and nuclear medicine can save millions of lives, and provide a return on investment of up to US$179 for every US$1 spent,” said Andrew Scott, Director of the Department of Molecular Imaging and Therapy at the Austin Health in Australia.

Speakers from Armenia, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Indonesia, Kenya, and South Korea discussed the importance of regional assistance, the transmission of knowledge and ways of how to overcome challenges such as shortages in funding, lack of skilled workforce, and latest technologies.

The second session focused on boosting quality, safety, and sustainability in the delivery of cancer care for all. Speakers from Algeria, Colombia, India, Thailand, and the United States explained the importance of quality assurance programmes, which are key for high-level quality diagnosis and treatment. They also discussed how to bolster regional cancer institutions, develop regional anchor centres, and establish collaborative networks in all aspects of radiation medicine, including through Rays of Hope.

Successful examples implemented in countries have been presented, such as a centralized model of affordable cancer care for low- and middle-income countries. Such model, as presented by Rajendra Badwe, Director at the Tata Memorial Centre and Cancer Hospital in India, offers affordable and accessible cancer care and takes into account the magnitude of cancer, unique subtypes, and trends in incidence and mortality.

The third session showcased the vital role of innovation in meeting the growing global need for cancer care and the IAEA’s role in fostering this development. Speakers from Argentina, Egypt, Japan, Poland, and Zimbabwe discussed the importance of access to modern technology including online training in expanding cancer care services and challenges in overcoming it. “By supplementing the face-to-face training with the use of online tools providing interactive consultations and radiotherapy planning practice, we could close the gap of radiation oncology worldwide,” said one of the speakers, Tomoaki Tamaki, Professor at the Fukushima Medical University in Japan.

Several innovative national and regional approaches were highlighted, such as a virtual multidisciplinary tumour board called AFRONET as presented by Ntokozo Ndlovu, clinical oncologist from the University of Zimbabwe.

The fourth session looked at how to incorporate uses of radiation medicine within the wider cancer control continuum through country examples. One such example is the IAEA-WHO framework for developing comprehensive cancer centres. “WHO and IAEA combined efforts to set up a framework for creating centres that provide a full spectrum of cancer services in addition to the delivery of safe radiation,” said Mary Gospodarowicz, radiation oncologist from the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at the University of Toronto in Canada about this initiative.

Other speakers from Cuba, France, Malaysia, Morocco, Singapore, and WHO also discussed the role of global cancer initiatives including the ones from WHO and the role of safety and security in radiation medicine.

The fifth and closing session featured a high-level panel on the importance of partnerships and collaborations in promoting access to cancer care through the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative. During this session, Director General Grossi joined Annette Owttrim, CEO of ASPEN Medical in Fiji, Idrissa Dia, Director of the Economic and Social Infrastructure Global Practices Department at the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and Greg Perry, Assistant Director General of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations, highlighting the importance of resource mobilization and outreach to a broad partnership base including the private sector and financial institutions.

“We are trying to bring people together, we are trying to be agile, and offer packages that are operational quickly,” said Mr Grossi closing the Forum. “The objective is to show results, and show them soon.”

Stay in touch