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Statement to TICAD VI Spouses Programme: For the future of women and girls in Africa

Nairobi, Kenya

IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano. (Photo: O. Yusuf/IAEA)

(As prepared for delivery)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to address this important seminar on Investing in Maternal and Child Health for Social Transformation in Africa.

I have had the honour of attending meetings of the African First Ladies on a number of occasions, most recently in New York last September. It is a pleasure to see so many of you again.

I compliment the Forum of African First Ladies for their great work in raising global awareness of the serious cancer problem in Africa. I was delighted when the Forum recently presented “Pillar of Support” awards to the IAEA, and to me personally, for our work in Africa.

I am extremely grateful to you all – and very proud to be your partner in this vitally important work of bringing top-quality cancer care to all the people of Africa.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is a technical organisation with expertise in nuclear technology.

We help countries gain access to technologies that can save lives by working closely with key partners such as the World Health Organization, leading NGOs and international financial institutions,.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA is working in a wide range of areas related to health of mothers and children.

In nutrition, for example, nuclear techniques can help to determine whether breast-fed babies are getting enough nutrients. Using a stable isotope technique, doctors can determine whether the child is getting enough milk. If not, its diet can be supplemented to ensure that its development is not impaired. The IAEA has promoted the use of this approach in more than a dozen African countries to improve the nutrition of infants and young children. We have been also working with a number of African countries on projects to assess the Vitamin A status of young children. A new project in Africa focuses on programmes to reduce stunted growth in children

Globally, we are assisting countries to combat malnutrition in children by using stable isotopes to measure the amount of water and nutrients in the body of children.

The IAEA is also able to respond quickly to health emergencies.

Two years ago, we helped countries in West Africa to deal with an outbreak of the Ebola virus by providing diagnostic kits, laboratory supplies and technical advice.

This enabled the affected countries to use nuclear-derived technologies to quickly diagnose the spread of Ebola and related viruses.

We are now adopting a similar approach to help countries in Latin America and the Caribbean respond to the Zika virus, which is now considered to be much more harmful for mothers and babies than previously believed

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Now I would like to focus on cancer.

Since my first trip as IAEA Director General was to Nigeria in 2009, I have been very much interested in cancer control in developing countries and I still am. Cancer in Africa is very much a women’s issue. I made this issue a priority for the IAEA and appealed to the world leaders that death by cancer in developing countries is a human tragedy.

So I was very pleased when a target of reducing early deaths from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, by one third by 2030 was included in the Sustainable Development Goals last year.

The IAEA is doing all it can to help achieve that goal.

Through our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy – PACT – we help countries to devise comprehensive cancer control programmes. We had a mission here in Kenya this week to review the programme and provide advice. We help to establish nuclear medicine and radiation oncology facilities and we support the education and training of health professionals.

Our work covers cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as ensuring the safety of patients and medical staff.

As far as diagnosis is concerned, we help countries to use nuclear medicine. This involves procedures such as PET/CT scans that use radioactive sources to help doctors to diagnose and manage heart disease, cancer and many other conditions.

When it comes to treatment, we are working to improve the availability of radiotherapy in Africa. Cancerous tumours can be destroyed using external beam radiation from linear accelerators, or with brachytherapy, which involves implanting tiny radioactive “seeds” at the site of a tumour.

Safety is crucially important when nuclear and radioactive materials are being used. Cancer patients treated with radiation must receive the correct doses – high enough to destroy tumours, but not too high so as to risk damaging healthy tissue. The IAEA has a special dosimetry laboratory which helps to ensure that radiotherapy equipment throughout the world is correctly calibrated to provide the right dose.   

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Since that first visit to Nigeria, I have seen real progress being made on cancer in many African countries.

New specialist cancer centres have been established. Radiation oncologists and medical physicists are returning home after receiving intensive training abroad, with the support of the Agency.

Throughout the African continent, I have been very impressed by the dedication of the doctors, nurses, technicians, government ministers and officials who are working hard to improve cancer care for their people.

However, the needs remain great. So what should be the next step for African countries?

I repeat what I said to the African First Ladies last September: Keep raising your voices about cancer!

When I talk about cancer to development banks and other funding organisations, they say: This is very interesting, Mr Amano, but we are not hearing this from the developing countries themselves.

I know that you are raising voice, but if cancer is a major priority for your country, please make sure that all of your international partners keep on getting the message. When the funding organisations keep hearing from your heads of state and ministers, as well as First Ladies, they will pay more attention. On my part, I will continue to do my part in raising awareness of these organisations and provide concrete assistance to developing countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The IAEA will start celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.

We will look forward and consider how best we can help countries to meet their developing needs in the coming decades through our mandate, which I call “Atoms for Peace and Development”.

I know that the African First Ladies will continue to play a vital role in promoting maternal and child health in Africa, and making cancer prevention, early detection, and treatment more accessible and affordable to all the people of Africa.

The IAEA will remain your steadfast partner in that noble endeavour.

Thank you.

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