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IAEA Meeting Aims to Help Fund Cancer Care in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Khartoum, Sudan

(From left to right) Mr Hassabo Mohammed Abdalrahman, Sudan's Vice President, in discussion with Mr Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director of the Africa Division under the IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation, Ms Nelly Enwerem-Bromson, Director of the Division of the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), and Mr Bahar Idris Abugarda, Sudan's Federal Minister of Health. (Photo: A. Nitzsche-Bell/IAEA)

A meeting co-organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to help finance cancer control initiatives in countries struggling to cope with the disease’s growing burden concluded today in Sudan. The meeting in the country’s capital, Khartoum, reviewed proposals for the provision of cancer services to refugees, and increased funding to fight cervical cancer – a major killer of women worldwide.

The event builds on an effort launched in 2012 by the IAEA, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Islamic Development Bank to mobilize resources and support training as part of cancer control in states that are part of all three organizations. The three entities also signed a practical arrangement in 2016 to facilitate collaboration in this area.

Sudan’s Vice-President Hassabo Mohammed Abdalrahman opened the meeting, which brought together representatives from health and finance ministries from 16 countries to present funding proposals to various development finance institutions. The proposals aim to boost national nuclear medicine and radiotherapy infrastructure, including through IAEA technical cooperation projects.

Afghanistan, Albania, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Jordan, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nigeria, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tajikistan and Uganda were represented at the meeting. Experts from Indonesia and Malaysia also participated to share their experience in financing national cancer control programmes. Other institutions present included the African Development Bank, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa and the World Health Organization.

Cancer is one of the world’s biggest killers. Low- and middle- income countries are the most affected with over half of new cases, but only 5 per cent of total global cancer resources to cope with it, according to the International Agency for Cancer Research.

“This week we join forces to fight cancer and to address one of the biggest challenges: securing resources for affordable and effective cancer services,” Nelly Enwerem-Bromson, Director of the IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, said at the meeting. “The rising tide of cancer calls for additional human and financial resources, as well as infrastructure.”

Funding proposals discussed include strategies to better detect and treat breast and cervical cancer, the most common types in women. Cervical cancer disproportionally affects women in developing countries, where 83 per cent of all new cases occur.

Early diagnosis and radiotherapy can treat cervical cancer effectively, but many countries lack awareness programmes and basic screening services. One of the 16 funding proposals discussed aims to establish a permanent screening centre in Cameroon – a country with 1,400 new cervical cancer cases annually, causing more than 700 deaths each year.

Other proposals include funds to train radiation oncologists and technicians, purchase and install diagnostic and radiotherapy machines and to establish national cancer registries.

The meeting also reviewed a proposal to expand cancer services for low-income people in Jordan, including refugees. The only public radiotherapy facility in the country’s capital Amman can treat around 50 patients per day, but the number of people requiring long-term cancer care is growing.

Mr Shaukat Abdulrazak, Director for Africa in the IAEA’s Department of Technical Cooperation, stressed the importance of countries to reflect investments in cancer as a priority in relevant strategic framework documents of the three organizations. “The IAEA will also continue to assist its Member States in their efforts to fight cancer through capacity building,” he said.

The Islamic Development Bank has already committed USD 100 million since 2013 to strengthen cancer diagnostic and treatment services in several common member states, including Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Niger, Sudan and Uzbekistan, announced Albashier Eltayeb Sallam, Lead Health Specialist at the Islamic Development Bank. “With the help of the IAEA and others, and under the leadership of national governments and their partners, we are fully committed to further expand this investment initiative, including to further scale-up national nuclear medicine and radiotherapy infrastructure.”

The IAEA works closely with partner organizations to mobilize resources to fight cancer by brokering financing arrangements, including soft loans, grants and in-kind contributions, and by facilitating agreements between countries, financial institutions, the private sector and international non-governmental organizations.

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