Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear Colleagues,
I am very pleased to speak to you on behalf of the Technical Cooperation Department, as we gather for one of the first major conferences to be held in this new building. I am impressed to see that one hundred countries from around the world are represented, truly an indication of the importance of the topic.
It is not by accident that attendance of this conference by participants from developing countries has been supported from the Technical Cooperation (TC) fund. As you may know, human health is a top priority area for our Member States, accounting for 27 % of the TC programme. Radioisotope and radiotherapy treatment are an important part of the human health area, with 132 projects active in the current cycle. In addition to more than $25 million coming directly from the TC fund as approved by the Board, Member States have pledged more than $30 million in government cost sharing and extrabudgetary funds to support activities in this area. Project objectives range from infrastructure establishment or upgrades of radiotherapy centres to the development of the related human resources, and also include quality assurance and control initiatives to improve practices, as well as peer reviews and audits.
All regions require support in these fields, although the needs differ widely. Today, some 20 Member States have no radiotherapy services at all, with sub-Saharan Africa particularly poorly supplied. However, even within this region, countries have a broad range of skills and capacities, with certain countries far advanced and in a position to offer support to neighbouring countries. To ensure the safe deployment of radiotherapy techniques, and to make certain that the outcomes of the TC projects are sustainable, it is essential that the technology is introduced using a phased approach in line with the available know-how and resources available in individual countries.
Working closely with the Ministries of Health and local institutions in Member States, we can safely say that the IAEA has achieved important results in radiation oncology and radiotherapy. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, most radiotherapy facilities have been established with Agency´s assistance. In Europe, several countries have collaborated closely with the IAEA to advance their radiotherapy services and strengthen cancer care over the past 10 years, thereby greatly improving success rates in treating cancer. In Asia, a distance training programme was developed to provide medical staff with specialised instruction in the applied sciences in radiation oncology in countries where this training would otherwise be unavailable. In Latin America we are working to strengthen regional collaboration and to enhance networking amongst institutions active in these fields.
Training of trainers to address the shortage of medical specialists in cancer diagnosis and treatment is a priority of our programme. Radiotherapy oncologists and technicians, medical physicists, nuclear medicine professionals and diagnostic radiologists have been offered important continuous professional development opportunities to enhance their qualifications and their ability to train others. Continuous professional advancement, as you all know well, is essential if medical personnel are to keep up to date with new developments. This conference provides an important forum not just to share the latest knowledge in the field but also to objectively review the modern technologies, compare experiences and assess their benefits from different perspectives.
We are particularly pleased by the work carried out by the IAEA´s Division of Human Health to advance quality management in radiation oncology. Support delivered through the Quality Assurance Team in Radiation Oncology - otherwise known as QUATRO - provides radiotherapy centres with external peer review and service evaluation, with the aim of improving their practices and helping them to move beyond the provision of basic services to the application of advanced technologies. These audits identify gaps in technology, human resources and procedures, allowing the audited centres to document areas for improvement, and also providing advice for further development. As a result of the QUATRO audits, a number of centres have been acknowledged for their high levels of competence. Since 2006, the IAEA has fielded 33 QUATRO missions through the TC mechanism in the four regions, and significant impacts and improvements have been achieved in the audited centres.
Last but not least, I would like to mention an Agency initiative to address the acute shortage of qualified medical physicists and enhance the recognition of the profession in Member States through an ambitious and wide-ranging inter-regional project on Strengthening Medical Physics in Radiation Medicine. The outcome of the ICARO session dedicated to education and training will be very useful for this project.
I wish you the very best in your deliberations.