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Statement at World Cancer Day

Vienna, Austria
World Cancer Day 2015

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for attending this IAEA event marking World Cancer Day 2015.

I am pleased to welcome our very distinguished panel of speakers:

Her Excellency Ms Roman Tesfaye, First Lady of Ethiopia;

Dr Doyin Oluwole, Executive Director of the Pink Ribbon Red Ribbon Initiative of the George W. Bush Institute;

Dr Tezer Kutluk, President of the Union for International Cancer Control;

Dr Kennedy Lishimpi, Executive Director of the Zambia Cancer Diseases Hospital;

and our own Dr May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the Division of Human Health at the IAEA.

Many events are being held around the world today to draw attention to cancer.

This year, there is a special focus on hope. The theme of World Cancer Day 2015 is 'Not Beyond Us'.

There is certainly good reason to hope that fighting cancer is not beyond us.

Great progress has been made against cancer in recent decades. Some cancers which were once almost always fatal can now be cured.

Rapid advances are being made continuously in areas such as medical imaging. Radiotherapy is becoming ever more accurate and precise.

Many cancers can be managed successfully for years and even decades, during which time patients enjoy a good quality of life.

But this is true mainly of developed countries.

The sad reality is that many developing countries lack the facilities, as well as the highly trained medical and technical personnel, to respond promptly and effectively to cancer.

It will take a concerted effort by all of us to ensure that, before too long, all countries enjoy access to the highest standards of cancer care.

I firmly believe that this is "Not Beyond Us."

But it will require commitment, resources and focused partnerships, to reach that point. And it will take time.

Around 70 percent of the world's cancer deaths occur in developing countries. Many of those deaths could be prevented if the right facilities, and trained staff, were available.

The IAEA has been working for decades with a global network of partners such as the World Health Organization to help countries establish comprehensive cancer control programmes that cover diagnosis, treatment and palliative care.

Our Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy – PACT – helps countries to use limited resources efficiently and effectively. PACT also seeks to raise global awareness of the challenge of cancer throughout the developing world, with the goal of increasing donor and partner support in areas where it is needed most.

Through our technical cooperation programme, we are supporting some 160 cancer projects around the world, mainly in low- and middle-income countries.

We help countries to establish oncology and radiotherapy centres. We provide extensive training for medical and technical staff. We support the establishment of nuclear medicine facilities for diagnostics.

Let me take just one example: Mauritania. In Mauritania, we helped the government to establish a national oncological centre and a nuclear medicine centre.

More than 20 of the medical professionals who run these facilities received training through IAEA fellowships, specialist courses and expert visits.

Cancer patients can now be treated in the county, rather than having to go abroad.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me say a little more about training and education, which are so important for countries to build up their own national capacity.

The Agency makes full use of modern technology in helping to share knowledge and experience among medical practitioners in developing countries.

Some of you will be familiar with the concept of a tumour board. This involves a number of doctors, who are experts in different medical specialties, coming together to discuss the condition of an individual patient and consider the best treatment options.

It is a common feature of cancer treatment in developed countries.

The African Radiation Oncology Network (Afro-NET), which was established by the IAEA's Division of Human Health, enables doctors to conduct tumour boards online, in real time.

That means physicians from Canada, the United States and African countries – for example – can get together to discuss the appropriate care for a patient.

They can review X-rays, scans and biopsy slides – just as if they were in the same room, instead of on different continents. This service can be accessed on mobile phones as well.

Similarly, through the IAEA Human Health Campus, we offer complete, interactive online training courses in radiation oncology, physics, nutrition and nuclear medicine.

Since its launch in 2010, more than 700,000 pages of specialist material have been viewed by users from over 170 countries. The Campus has an average of 4,500 visitors per month, which is a lot for such a specialized site.

In addition, the Virtual University for Cancer Control, or VUCCnet – which is a key PACT project – has notched up an important milestone, with three e-learning courses accessed by 500 health professionals in Africa.

All of this helps developing countries to build up the well trained, multi-disciplinary, professional teams needed for a sustainable cancer programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

IAEA support can make a great difference. You have just seen our film about Viet Nam. You will hear in a moment from our friends from Ethiopia and Zambia about their experiences.

I am proud of the work which the IAEA does in the cancer area. It really does save lives.

But much more is needed. We must continue to strive to improve the services we can offer our Member States.

The goal must be equitable access for all patients, in all countries, to the highest standards of cancer care, regardless of their country's level of development.

The Agency's work in cancer control will always be a high priority for me as Director General.

I am grateful to all our donors and partners for their support for the Agency's work.

And I thank all of you for demonstrating your support through your presence here today.

Thank you.

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Last update: 25 Nov 2019

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