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Strengthening Collaboration in Cancer Control through Coordination Across the United Nations System

The Directors of the IAEA Divisions of Human Health and the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, May Abdel-Wahab and Lisa Stevens, join Dr Elisabete Weiderpass, IARC Director, and Bente Mikkelsen, Director of Noncommunicable Disease at the World Health Organization. (Photo: Y. Lyamzina, WHO)

Since 2019, the IAEA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have met to coordinate their complementary work on cancer in what has become an annual, strategic mechanism. The Annual Strategic Consultations facilitate planning for efficient and effective collaboration between with the three UN agencies, which all have a mandate whose shared goal is the improvement of cancer control around the world.

“[Our] commitment for this crucial work grows every year, as recent trends suggest that cancer may become the leading cause of premature death in most countries during this century,” explained Dr Elisabete Weiderpass, IARC Director. “These trends are particularly impactful on low- and middle-income countries, where over 70 percent of cancer deaths are expected to occur.”

At the meeting this year, representatives from the three organizations convened at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on 20 and 21 October, following the conclusion of the 2022 World Cancer Congress. The meeting was co-chaired by the IAEA Directors of the Division of Human Health and the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy Division, and the participants focused on the design and implementation of concrete actions to further improve their partnership.

They also noted the publication of the imPACT review methodology. This publication, recently issued, offers a tangible example of the partnership between the three organizations. It was developed through a process of intense collaboration to clarify and detail the formal process underpinning imPACT reviews, a service jointly provided by the three organizations.

The two-day meeting concluded with the handover of the chairpersonship from the IAEA to the WHO. (Photo: M. Gibadyukov, IAEA)

imPACT reviews are coordinated by the IAEA and jointly conducted by IAEA, WHO and IARC experts; they are designed to provide governments and their partners with a comprehensive situation analysis and accompanying recommendations to guide national cancer control planning across the cancer control continuum. The new methodology publication offers concrete guidance on the imPACT Review process for international experts, UN Agencies, countries and additional stakeholders.

“The opportunity to meet with the teams from IARC and WHO to discuss concrete actions we can pursue in specific countries to advance cancer control was a highlight of the meeting,” said Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy Division. “As our partnership has strengthened, we have advanced from a refresh of the imPACT Review Methodology to targeted country support for National Cancer Control Programmes and now on to implementation activities.”  

A cross-cutting theme of this year’s discussion was the development of strategies to enhance country-level support and, in particular, strengthening of collaboration with WHO country and regional offices, in order to harness the perspectives of all stakeholders and to tailor engagement with each country. To that end, substantial time was dedicated to current and upcoming cancer control activities on the ground, with discussions led by cancer control experts from four WHO Regional Offices.

“The importance of data for informed decision making cannot be overstated. During the meeting with WHO and IARC colleagues we explored options for linking our various databases in order to increase awareness of the available information and to provide a resource for planning and implementation," said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA Division of Human Health.

Working groups will carry forward action across several priority areas, including the identification and training of international experts used for joint missions; coordination of action on flagship initiatives on cervical, breast, childhood cancers, and Rays of Hope; and streamlining of cancer assessment tools for countries. 

“This meeting is a reminder of what a privilege it is to work with high-capacity and professional teams across the United Nations system. I am inspired to hear from the actions on the ground, and encourage everyone to learn from these conversations,” said Bente Mikkelsen, Director of Noncommunicable Disease at the World Health Organization. WHO will chair the 5th Annual Strategic Consultation in 2023.  

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