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World Cancer Day 2024: The IAEA Rays of Hope Initiative Call to Bridge the Cancer Care Gap Faster


IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi welcoming attendees in person and online to the IAEA’s 2024 World Cancer Day event in Vienna in February 2024. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

World Cancer Day: Ways of tackling the growing cancer epidemic better and faster were discussed by hundreds of key players working for equal access to cancer care at the IAEA headquarters earlier this month.

The high level event shone a light on the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative and its efforts to expand access to radiotherapy and diagnostic medical imaging worldwide for cancer patients who currently have little or no access to this life saving care. In total 76 countries have already requested IAEA support through the initiative.

The two-day event was opened by Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, who urged world leaders to back the initiative and intensify their efforts to deliver cancer care for all. Watch the recording of the opening session here.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, echoed the Director General’s call that longstanding inequities in access to cancer care worldwide must be addressed.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, spoke to the Forum to emphasize the importance of working together to reach shared goals of increased access to cancer care.. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Three-time cancer survivor and keynote speaker Bianca Muñiz shared her own moving tale of hope. “Access to life saving treatments, like the ones I received, should not be determined by the geographical lottery of birth,” she said.

Her message was further amplified when representatives from three recipient countries  Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Minister of Health of Malawi, Karina Rando, Minister of Health of Uruguay and Raul Doria, Director, Instituto Nacional del Cáncer, Paraguay, took to the floor to explain the impact Rays of Hope is having on patients living with cancer in their countries.

“You are the voice of all cancer patients worldwide,” said Ms Chiponda to Ms Muñiz as she opened her statement. “You are the voice of the 5000 Malawians who are waiting to be treated with radiotherapy or brachytherapy.” Thanks to Rays of Hope, she went on to explain, the construction of Malawi’s first radiotherapy centre is now well underway. But there are more patients in Africa awaiting treatment and support.

Bianca Muñiz, three-time cancer survivor was applauded by members of the audience for sharing her moving tale of hope at the IAEA event on cancer in February 2024. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA).

Newly published data by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) (Globocan 2022) show that cancer cases and deaths worldwide are increasing, not decreasing. “This tells me we need a different approach,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi in his opening statement. “Through Rays of Hope we are doing just that — bringing together the different actors to deliver impactful and lasting change.”

The opening session of the Forum was livestreamed and followed by audience members worldwide in the context of World Cancer Day 2024. The two-day discussion continued with talks from actors at all levels of the cancer care continuum: research centres, cancer care institutions, governments, policymakers and the private sector.

Rays of Hope builds on many years of cancer support to countries, including through imPACT Review missions, national cancer control programmes and support for the preparation of strategic funding documents. Ten imPACT Reviews were coordinated by the IAEA in 2023 and conducted jointly with the IAEA, the WHO and the IARC to assist countries with their national cancer control plans.

The role of innovation and Anchor Centres was also highlighted during the event, with Deniz Yalman, a professor from Ege University in Türkiye — Europe’s only Anchor Centre — taking the floor in a session on the importance of guaranteeing sustainability and quality in cancer management. “The role of Anchor Centres is pivotal to ensure long term solutions that ensure a fully trained body of medical staff is ready to deliver nuclear medicine for diagnosis and treatment safely and securely in each region and country,” she confirmed.

Audience members also heard about other concrete solutions and directions that can accelerate the speed and scale of progress — examples of innovation and research which help cancer centres do more with the tools and techniques that they have; state-of-the-art learning platforms that catalyse education and training at scale; and much needed databases that generate novel insights for targeted and focused action.

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