Supporting developing countries
Panel members explored ways to improve cancer survival rates in developing countries. More than 5 million people succumb to cancer each year in low and middle-income countries. 80% of Africa’s one billion people have no access to radiotherapy. Some countries have only one cancer treatment centre serving millions of people, while many others lack treatment centres altogether.
Malika Issoufou Mahamadou, First Lady of Niger, talked about the difficulties Africa is facing in dealing with its growing cancer burden. “We should not accept that women, children and men are dying from cancers which are preventable and curable,” she said in a video message.
The panellists also shared country-specific perspectives on cancer control. Speaking about positive developments in Honduras, Vice Minister of Health Delia Rivas highlighted the recent launch of the country’s national cancer control strategy and programme. She thanked the IAEA for its timely support for training activities for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Rakiatou Christelle Kaffa-Jackou, Niger’s Minister of Development Cooperation, acknowledged the IAEA’s support in radiotherapy training, constructing a cancer centre and facilitating contacts with donors. She also identified key factors to be addressed in strengthening strategies for cancer control in Niger. “Social and cultural issues, lack of acceptance of cancer as a health problem and seeking treatment only in the final stages of the disease are among the serious challenges my country faces,” she said. “It is not an easy task trying to change the mindset of people.”
Partnering to strengthen the fight against cancer
Nicole Denjoy, the Vice-Chair of the Global Diagnostic Imaging, Health Care, IT & Radiation Therapy Trade Association (DITTA) emphasized the role of the private sector. “We have a vital role to play to ensure access to cancer services by advancing quality and innovative technologies for the affordable diagnosis and treatment of cancer in low and middle-income countries.”
A proper infrastructure and continuous training of health care professionals in the use of medical equipment have to be factored into a country’s national cancer programme, she added.
Ernest Belembaogo, Director of Gabon’s National Cancer Institute, acknowledged the IAEA’s contribution to strengthening his country’s cancer control programme. “The support we received from the IAEA for training medical staff in radiotherapy and related areas has helped our country to move forward in establishing quality cancer services,” he said. “To overcome this threat to global health and development, it is essential that we have the political will, as well as committed national leadership.”
Neira Kameric, a survivor of childhood cancer and founder of the Bosnian Cancer Survivor Network ‘MladiCe BiH’ (‘The Youth Will’), highlighted the critical role played by non-governmental organizations, particularly in low and middle-income countries, in demanding access to better cancer services, and offering support to cancer patients and their families. “We had to fight for many years to get our association the recognition it deserves,” she said. “I was 12 when I was diagnosed with cancer and underwent my treatment. There was no psychological support. Childhood cancer is a family disease. Everyone is affected and needs support.”
In her concluding remarks, Nelly Enwerem-Bromson, Director of the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), said that the cancer crisis poses a serious threat to health and development, especially in low and middle income countries. “Cancer alone is draining over US$2 trillion from the world economy annually. This issue deserves higher visibility on the global political and economic agenda.” She pointed out that only 1.6% of all development assistance for health was channelled towards non-communicable diseases in 2014. Without increased support, severe gaps will remain in providing vital cancer control services, training enough health professionals and expanding access to quality infrastructure and equipment, particularly for those most vulnerable.
Ms Enwerem-Bromson closed the event with a call to IAEA Member States, United Nations agencies, private sector companies, cancer survivors and others to come together to ensure access to comprehensive cancer care and life-saving interventions for everyone, everywhere.