One radiotherapy machine can save thousands of lives. That is the case with Tanzania and its Equinox 80 teletherapy machine that was acquired through the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).
Since receiving it, Tanzanian health authorities say they have doubled the number of cancer patients they can treat every year, from 2 000 new patients up to 4 000. "It has reduced the waiting time and also it has enabled us to save more Tanzanians," says Dr. Twalib Ngoma, Executive Director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute, where the teletherapy machine is located, and Tanzania's only cancer treatment facility.
"The difference that the machine has made is enormous," he says.
Just as the teletherapy machine's impact has been enormous, the same can be said for the other benefits Tanzania has derived from being one of eight PACT Model Demonstration Sites (PMDS) around the world. The benefits have included training, funding, expert advice and a commitment of support in any number of areas from the Agency.
For example, the Ocean Road Cancer Institute worked with PACT partner organisation IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer) on a project to test the feasibility of low cost cervical cancer screening. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer among women in Tanzania (GLOBOCAN 2008), but sadly, most women wait until the disease is too advanced - when a cure is impossible - before seeking treatment.
Therefore Tanzania chose to focus the majority of its cervical cancer efforts on prevention, which involves vaccination and screening. The cervical cancer screening pilot project with IARC was so successful that the government has since expanded it. "Out of the 26 regions in the country we have covered 13," says Ngoma. To reach beyond the country's urban areas and make cervical cancer screening sustainable, to increase cancer care centres or implement effective cancer prevention programmes, human resource development is essential.
"Our priority is in human resource development. You can have all the money that you need to have, but without human resources nothing gets done," says Ngoma.
Through PACT, Tanzania now offers training programmes for radiation technologists and clinical oncologists; and is participating in the IAEA/PACT Project to establish a Virtual University for Cancer Control (VUCCnet) in sub-Saharan Africa. PACT partner organisations like IARC, the National Cancer Institute in the US, and the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) have also trained or contributed to the training of hundreds of doctors and nurses in the country. Tanzanians received this training through PACT partnership agreements or as a result of PACT funding.
To see a significant reduction in cancer in any country it can take 10 to 20 years of consistent, focused national effort. Tanzania's focused efforts, supported by PACT, constitute a leap in the right direction.
A Model for All
There are eight PACT Model Demonstration Sites - in Albania, Ghana, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam and Yemen.
PMDS promote cross-sectorial partnerships between health ministries, national counterparts and international development partners in cancer prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment and palliative care.
Launched as part of PACT's growing public-private partnerships, PMDS enable Member States involved to combine the individual strengths and resources of the Ministries of Health and their national counterparts, World Health Organisation and IAEA/PACT, and other partners and stakeholders to achieve maximum impact on any priority interventions included in the national cancer control plan.
PMDS projects have helped mobilise new resources for cancer control and the improvement of the infrastructures that support it. Each operational PMDS is a demonstration of the feasibility and value of multidisciplinary, interagency cooperation in combating cancer, thereby increasing the understanding and expertise of low and middle-income countries in cancer capacity building.