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Remarks by Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi for World Cancer Day 2020: Together in the Fight against Cervical Cancer

Vienna, Austria
World Cancer Day 2020

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Excellencies, distinguished guests, dear colleagues,

I am pleased to be with you today to mark World Cancer Day.

I thank the Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, Ambassador Kumlin Granit of Sweden, and the Ambassadors of Belgium and Morocco for joining us. I am grateful to all participants, including the experts who have come to share their knowledge with us.

Our theme today is “Together in the fight against cervical cancer”.

This dreadful disease kills more than 300,000 women every year, around 90 percent of whom are in low- and middle-income countries. The fact that these patients die of a disease which is often treatable in countries with adequate cancer services is a scandal.

That is why cancer control in developing countries is a strong focus of the IAEA’s work. For many years, we have worked to improve access to nuclear medicine, radiotherapy and dosimetry services.

With key partners such as the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer, we work to integrate these services into comprehensive cancer control plans.

In the case of cervical cancer, medical imaging and nuclear medicine techniques help to properly stage the disease.  Once diagnosed, cervical cancer can often be treated effectively with radiotherapy, the most common form of treatment for women with cervical cancer in low- and middle-income countries.

However, one country in four does not have access to a single radiotherapy machine. That is a sobering statistic. And it is unacceptable.

Preventing women from dying from cervical cancer requires many different experts and partners to work together.

Today, I am proud to announce that we are  launching a new partnership with UNAIDS, the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS, to expand comprehensive cancer care for women affected by cervical cancer.

This is particularly important as HIV infections put adolescent girls and young women at a very high risk of developing this type of cancer.  For example, in Africa, where cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer death, HIV-infected women are six times more likely than uninfected women to die from cervical cancer.

I am confident that this new initiative will save many lives.

As part of our day-to-day assistance to developing countries, the IAEA provides training for radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiologists and other professionals. We help countries to set up facilities for radiotherapy and nuclear medicine and to acquire equipment for diagnosing and treating cancer.

Our Dosimetry Laboratory in Seibersdorf, near Vienna, helps with the calibration of radiotherapy equipment so that patients get exactly the right dose of radiation and medical personnel are protected from unnecessary exposure to radiation.

The IAEA supports fellowships, education and training workshops, and research.

We make full use of IT tools so that professionals from developing countries can receive high-quality training without having to make costly trips abroad.

The IAEA Human Health Campus, for example, is an educational website for health professionals which provides information on medical physics, nuclear medicine, radiology, radiation oncology and nutrition.

In developed countries, cancer patients often have their case reviewed by a tumour board, a group of professionals with different specialities who work together to determine the best possible treatment for each individual.

To make this service available across Africa, the IAEA developed AfroNET, a virtual tumour board which allows cancer professionals – who may be in different countries – to present, discuss and review challenging cases, including of cervical cancer, online.

We developed a gynaecological cancer management app to help doctors more quickly and accurately evaluate the extent of cancer in female reproductive organs and select the appropriate treatment.

The IAEA maintains a unique online global registry of radiotherapy facilities, known as the Directory of Radiotherapy Centres, DIRAC.

Through our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, the Agency offers what we call imPACT Reviews which assess countries’ capacities in cancer control. We help them to develop Comprehensive National Cancer Control Plans and produce what are known “bankable documents” which assist them in obtaining donor funding for cancer-related projects.

Last year, we launched a partnership with the Islamic Development Bank to help tackle cervical and breast cancer in countries which are member states of both the IAEA and the Bank.

Another important collaboration is the UN Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control. We are one of seven UN agencies which are working together to address the cervical cancer challenge, all the way from prevention to diagnosis, treatment, and palliative care.

We look forward to playing our part in the WHO Elimination Strategy for Cervical Cancer, which will be launched at the World Health Assembly in May.

As IAEA Director General, I am working on new initiatives and partnerships, which I believe will help to multiply the impact of our work in the cancer field. I expect to have some news on that soon.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The goal of everyone working on cervical cancer is to ensure that no woman dies from a disease that could have been prevented or treated, and that patients recover to live long, healthy and productive lives.

The IAEA is committed to playing its part in ensuring that the highest standard of cervical cancer care becomes available in every country in the world.

Every woman should have a fair chance against cancer.

Thank you.

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