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Remarks at World Cancer Day

Vienna, Austria
IAEA Director General delivering his opening remarks at the World Cancer Day event held at the Vienna International Centre (VIC) in Vienna, Austria, 3 February 2017.

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano delivering his opening remarks at the World Cancer Day Event held at the Agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues.

I am very pleased to welcome you all to this IAEA World Cancer Day event.

I thank our main speakers – Her Royal Highness Princess Dina Mired of Jordan, Her Excellency the First Lady of Belize Ms Kim Simplis Barrow, and Mr Amadou Diarra of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations.

Improving access to effective cancer treatment in developing countries has been a key priority for me since I became Director General in 2009.

My first official visit was to Nigeria, where the immense tragedy of avoidable deaths from cancer was brought home to me.

I was shocked to learn that, in this nation of 173 million people, many thousands of people died from cancers that would often be treatable if they lived in a country with enough trained personnel and equipment.

The situation was similar in many African countries. In fact, around 80 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have no access to radiotherapy and related cancer services at all.

If we look at the global picture, it is estimated that, by 2030, over two thirds of all cancer-related deaths will occur in developing countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is doing everything it can to address this crisis. Our focus is on making radiotherapy and nuclear medicine more widely available.

In Ghana, for example, we provided diagnostic equipment for child cancers. We helped Nigeria to develop its institutions and infrastructure for fighting cancer, and provided training for dozens of oncology, nuclear medicine and radiotherapy professionals.

We have helped Lesotho plan its first radiotherapy centre and arranged training for local doctors in radiation oncology so that they can provide treatment when the new centre opens in a few years’ time.  

Specialist training – for doctors, medical physicists, nurses and researchers – is at the heart of what we do.  

We have unique e-learning initiatives such as our Virtual University for Cancer Control, which enables medical professionals in African countries to gain access to high-quality training courses, free of charge.

Our Human Health Campus website is an information resource for professionals in medical physics, nuclear medicine, radiology, radiation oncology and nutrition, providing insight into modern clinical practice.

Our training is not just for students and newcomers. We also help experienced professionals to maintain and update their skills and to keep pace with technological advances.

Some developing countries already have considerable technical expertise in radiotherapy and nuclear medicine ­– for example, Morocco, Egypt and South Africa. They provide training to experts from other African and Arab countries. They are key partners for the IAEA and we rely on their support.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many parts of the IAEA are involved in our cancer work: our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy – PACT –, our Division of Human Health, our regional technical cooperation desks, and our nuclear safety experts.

The IAEA Dosimetry Laboratory at Seibersdorf, near Vienna, helps hospitals around the world to calibrate radiotherapy machines properly to ensure that patients receive exactly the right dose of radiation – neither too much nor too little. 

Our approach is very much “one house.”

In order to ensure the most effective global response to the cancer crisis, we cooperate with other organisations whose expertise complements ours.

We are working with the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer and others to help countries devise comprehensive cancer control programmes through a Joint Project on Cancer Control.

We are an active partner in the United Nations Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control, which aims to reduce cervical cancer mortality in participating countries by 25% by 2025. This cruel disease afflicts women in their most productive years and is highly preventable – and curable, if caught early.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have seen real progress in the availability of cancer services in recent years, in Africa, in particular.

New specialist cancer centres have been established in some countries. Radiation oncologists and medical physicists are deploying the new skills they acquired with the support of the Agency.

I am very grateful for the strong support for our work provided by Member States, funding institutions, NGOs, corporate donors and industry groups.

The IAEA’s cancer activities have undoubtedly saved many lives. But, to be frank, we are only scratching the surface. A great deal more needs to be done.

There is an estimated shortage of 5,000 radiotherapy machines throughout the world. To meet the cancer needs of developing countries, we need around 10,000 additional radiation oncologists, 6,000 medical physicists, 3,000 dosimetrists and 20,000 radiation therapists.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 was a very important step in building awareness of the problem of cancer in developing countries among world leaders.

As you know, the SDGs include a commitment to reduce early deaths from chronic diseases, including cancer, by one third by 2030.

That is an ambitious goal. But I believe it is achievable if governments, organisations such as the IAEA and WHO, non-governmental organisations, and the private sector work together.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am considering devoting the IAEA Scientific Forum in September to exploring the benefits of nuclear medicine and radiation technology for human health, including in cancer control.

The IAEA is firmly committed to playing its part to help ensure that all countries will be able to offer their people access to the highest standards of cancer care.

Thank you.

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