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Raising the Profile of Global Cancer Epidemic

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and his wife, Aida, with HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco. (Photo: "Centre de Presse de la Principauté de Monaco")

The growing cancer crisis in the developing world took centre stage at a gala event in Monaco´s Hotel de Paris on 16 December. Hosted by HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco and in the presence of IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, the event aimed to raise awareness and funding for the work of the IAEA´s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).

By dedicating the evening to PACT, Prince Albert underscored Monaco´s determination to add its support to the fight against cancer in low-income countries.

Welcoming some 70 specially invited business leaders, cancer specialists and concerned individuals, the Prince referred to the Principality´s collaboration with the IAEA in areas such as marine environmental protection and said he was proud of its present and future partnership with PACT. "In this way we are demonstrating our commitment to the peaceful applications of nuclear technology, particularly in the area of medical research and health in developing countries," he said.

Reflecting on the growing inequality between rich and poor nations in terms of cancer cure and care, Dr. ElBaradei told the gathering that while some countries - for example Austria, where the IAEA is headquartered - have one radiotherapy machine for every 200,000 people or fewer, other countries have only one treatment machine for up to ten million people. And some of the world´s poorest nations have no radiotherapy facilities at all.

"Cancer rates are decreasing in the more prosperous countries, but in the developing world ten people die of the disease every minute. Yet with the affordable technologies - including radiotherapy - and strategies we have today, half of these lives could be saved," he said. "We don´t need to wait for a miracle - we need to commit ourselves to providing investment in science and technology in developing countries."

The Director General´s appeal could not have been timelier. Earlier this month a report issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) predicted that by 2010 cancer will overtake heart disease to become the world´s number one killer. Emerging nations, which are seeing increased use of tobacco and the adoption of Western lifestyles, will bear the brunt of the crisis with up to 70% of all new cases. To turn the tide, action must be taken now.

Guests attending the gala event also heard from Dr. Twalib Ngoma, Executive Director of the Ocean Road Cancer Institute (ORCI) in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, a PACT model demonstration site. Dr. Ngoma spoke of the cancer challenges facing low-income countries like Tanzania, which has up to 35,000 new cancer cases each year. Currently, ORCI is Tanzania´s sole cancer treatment and radiotherapy centre.

The IAEA has a long history of providing radiotherapy technology and expertise to low and middle-income countries. But to effectively combat the growing cancer problem, radiotherapy must be part of a broader, integrated strategy. PACT, which was created in 2005, is spearheading the Agency´s efforts in the fight against cancer in the developing world by forging international partnerships with leading cancer organisations and other stakeholders in both the public and private sectors.

Said PACT Programme Head Massoud Samiei: "The scale of the global cancer epidemic is so great that no organization can face it alone. Much more can be achieved by working together. The support of HSH Prince Albert and the state of Monaco is a leading example of the kind of partnerships and resources PACT is mobilizing to fight cancer in developing countries."

Mr. Samiei added that fruitful discussions were held between PACT and Monegasque government officials centring on proposals for collaboration in areas such as improving cancer control services in Madagascar and the development of cancer centres of excellence, for example in Morocco.

During the Director General´s two-day visit to Monaco, he and Prince Albert visited the IAEA Marine Environment Laboratory (IAEA-MEL), where its Director, Maria Betti, presented an overview of recent activities in marine research, in particular into the key issue of ocean acidification.


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