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World Cancer Congress: IAEA Highlights Key Role of Partnership and Nuclear Technology in Fight Against Cancer


IAEA Deputy Director General Liu Hua delivered an intervention to the plenary session of the 2022 World Cancer Congress, stressing the value of partnerships. (Photo: IAEA)

The IAEA joined leading cancer experts, international organizations and national decision makers at the 2022 World Cancer Congress (WCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, last week, where Agency experts emphasized the need to forge new, and expand traditional, partnerships in the global fight against cancer.

The event, held every two years, aims to explore the latest scientific developments in cancer research, identify emerging obstacles preventing access to cancer care and raise awareness ensuring that cancer remains a global health priority.

“Partnerships are critical to strengthened health systems,” said Hua Liu, IAEA Deputy Director General and head of the Department of Technical Cooperation. “We are looking to expand our partner base to include more private sector partners, including foundations and corporate social responsibility arms, as well as international financial institutions and development agencies, as we realize a shared solution is the only way forward.”

In the Congress’ opening day plenary session, Liu, highlighted the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative, launched earlier this year. The initiative aims to tackle the severe shortage of cancer care capacity in many countries by improving availability of radiotherapy services, medical imaging and nuclear medicine that are critical for detecting and curing this disease. Through Rays of Hope, the IAEA is now helping Chad to establish its first cancer therapy and has supported Senegal in the development and launch of its national cancer control plan (NCCP).  

“Rays of Hope is an example of the multistakeholder approach, which is required to tackle the global cancer crisis and contribute to resilient health systems, and the initiative will ensure that countries are ready to meet cancer head on,” Liu said.

The IAEA has also recently entered into specific partnerships with GE Healthcare to train medical imaging professionals, with Japan’s Okayama University to research Boron Neutran Capture Therapy and with the African Union to expand cooperation in cancer care.

Liu highlighted the IAEA’s continued work on cancer control with traditional partners, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)—particularly in the delivery of imPACT Reviews— as well as its work with the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which organized the WCC. At the event, the IAEA co-hosted an exhibition booth with WHO and IARC on the role of partnerships in IAEA cancer control activities.

“Our work with these organizations, and with national counterparts on the ground, is a practical demonstration of how each partner brings their own mandate and strengths to a common effort,” he said.

At a plenary panel discussion on the role of regional planning in cancer control, IAEA Director of the Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) Lisa Stevens highlighted the need to engage with partners at all levels to ensure the prioritization of cancer care in national public health agendas. Partners in academia and civil society help to highlight the burdens imposed by cancer, providing research and ideas, petitioning governments to act, tracking progress and educating the public, she said.  

“The role of civil society and local advocacy groups is essential in the fight to increase access to cancer care, to raise awareness around early screening and to actively engage governments to implement cancer control activities at the national level,” Stevens said. Stevens is a member of the WCC’s Cancer Research and Progress Committee, one of six thematic committees providing the framework for covering the full spectrum of cancer control.

During a discussion on establishing cancer centres, May Abdel-Wahab, IAEA Director of Human Health, stated how cancer centres serve as guiding institutions. “Cancer centres provide a link between various components of cancer control, connecting all levels of care with other disease programmes, overall health systems and services,” she said. “It is a resource for the entire community, and we must ensure that a cancer centre can promote equitable access and universal health coverage and not divert resources away from lower levels of the health care system.” Earlier this year, the IAEA and WHO released a joint publication, Setting up a Cancer Centre: A WHO–IAEA Framework, to help guide policy makers, programme managers and clinical care providers in setting up and developing cancer treatment facilities in a phased manner.

In addition to co-hosting an exhibition stand and delivering plenary interventions, the IAEA experts attending WCC took the opportunity to meet directly with national healthcare policymakers, as well as members of private sector and philanthropic organizations. (Photo: UICC)

The WCC provides a forum for exchanging experiences, success stories and innovative ideas on how to address the cancer epidemic and ensure a sustainable global response. To help enrich those conversations and foster the expansion of a global network of cancer control professionals, the IAEA, through its technical cooperation programme, funded the participation of 10 cancer experts from 10 countries: Azerbaijan, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Madagascar, Mauritius, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and Zimbabwe.

“In Azerbaijan, there are still a huge number of women with advance-stage cervical cancer who require modern radiotherapy as an essential component of their treatment,” said Nigar Aliyeva, an oncologist working at the National Centre of Oncology in Azerbaijan. “I was grateful for the opportunity to participate in the WCC, not only to expand my own knowledge, but to explore new directions of cooperation in the field of cancer research.”

The WCC took place from 18 to 20 October this year. The next World Cancer Congress will be held in 2024. “The opportunity to engage with global cancer experts, advocates, patients, civil society and private sector remains a high priority for the Agency, as we aim to improve the lives of cancer patients through safe, accurate and timely diagnosis and treatment,” Stevens said.

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