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Paving the Way for Women’s Cancer Care: First Meeting of the Women’s Cancer Partnership Initiative Task Force

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi confirmed his strong commitment to the Joint IAEA-IsDB Partnership Initiative on Women’s Cancers at meeting with Dr. Hayat Sindi, Vice President, Chairperson and Chief Advisor to the Islamic Development Bank President. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Senior representatives from the IAEA and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) reaffirmed their commitment to working together to combat women’s cancers during a meeting last week to begin implementing the Women’s Cancer Partnership Initiative. This was the first in a series of meetings by the Initiative’s Joint Task Force since the announcement of the partnership at the IAEA Scientific Forum in September 2019.

The Women’s Cancer Partnership Initiative, also known as the Partnership Initiative to Increase Access to Diagnostics and Treatment of Women’s Cancers in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, is a joint effort between the IAEA, the IsDB and other partners to increase cancer services for women in priority countries, with a focus on breast and cervical cancer. It builds on joint work by the IAEA and IsDB since 2012 to improve countries’ cancer control capacities.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in low- and middle-income countries, and 90% of cervical cancer deaths are in developing countries. “These are shocking figures that need to be addressed,” according to a statement by Dazhu Yang, Deputy Director General of the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation, delivered at the meeting. “This partnership will enable us to advance access to more equitable diagnostics and treatment for women living with breast and cervical cancer.”

The initiative will develop and expand breast and cervical cancer control programmes in 17 countries that are members of both organizations, including the upgrade of over 40 cancer facilities, through the procurement of equipment. Over 100 cancer care professionals will be trained, and quality assurance and management in the use of nuclear and radiation will be strengthened. 

“This is a partnership which will not only help women with cancer, but also entire families and communities,” said Hayat Sindi, Chief Scientific Advisor to IsDB President Bandar Hajjar. “This issue is very close to President Hajjar’s heart.”

Senior representatives from the IAEA and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) reaffirmed their commitment to working together to combat women’s cancers. (Photo: C. Karle/IAEA)

The first four countries expected to submit proposals to receive support this year through the initiative are Uzbekistan, Benin, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire. During the next five years, the remaining thirteen countries participating in the initiative — Albania, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan — are planning to submit proposals to receive technical support, equipment and training to improve cancer services for women. More countries may be added as the initiative grows, said Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA’s Division of Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy.

During the meeting, participants discussed the development of a framework for joint donor outreach and communication. This framework will aim to inform potential donors about the initiative and encourage them to provide support. Participants also discussed the respective roles and activities of the IAEA and the IsDB in the partnership.

The IsDB has already committed to mobilizing an initial US $10 million grant to the initiative over 5 years, and a pledging event in Jeddah in April 2020 is intended to mobilize additional resources and bring new donors on board. “We discussed today how we will use this event to create awareness about this partnership and attract donors to pledge funds as well as the possibility of a trust fund,” Sindi said. “During the pledging event, we hope to use case studies about the positive impact that these treatments have on women’s lives to help new donors see the difference this initiative can make.”

 “The overarching theme of this partnership is that we’re relying on the strength of each other,” said Stevens. “I look forward to continuing to work with the Joint Task Force to bring better cancer care to women in our participating Member States.”

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