|Radiotherapy, the medical use of ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells, is often an essential supplementary treatment method to other cancer therapies. It is effective and economical in the curative and palliative treatment of many common forms of cancer.
While communicable diseases remain the highest burden of illness in Mauritania, cancer was responsible for 6.3 % of all deaths in 2004, and in 2008, more than 1 500 lives were lost to cancer. Cervical and breast cancers rank at the top of cancer related deaths among female patients, while liver cancer causes the highest mortality among male patients. All three cancers should ideally be treated with conventional methods in combination with complementary radiation therapy.
Until last year, however, the people of Mauritania had no other choice than to travel to other countries for cancer treatment, because there was no radiotherapy facility in the country. Each year almost 500 cancer patients were sent abroad to receive the necessary treatment, at an average cost of $ 8000 per person. This was a considerable expenditure for the country, not to mention a tremendous upheaval in the life of the patient.
With the assistance of the IAEA, Mauritania’s first radiotherapy centre was inaugurated in 2010, and, cancer patients could finally receive treatment in their home country. The centre caters to patients who suffer from various types of cancers, and uses the most modern methods in radiotherapy. The unit is an indispensable addition to the National Oncology Centre, and is considered a benchmark in efforts to treat cancer in the country. The cooperation between Mauritania and the IAEA was exemplary, and was responsible for the rapid implementation of the project.
With the opening of the centre, medical evacuation abroad is expected to fall by as much as 87%, as cancer patients are able to receive treatment in their home country. As a result, funds formerly spent on therapy in a foreign country can now be directed to the development of cancer treatment in Mauritania. It is also anticipated that patients from neighbouring countries will make use of the cancer centre. To date, around 2000 patients have received treatment in the new radiotherapy centre.
At the opening ceremony of the radiotherapy centre, Mauritania’s President, Mr. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, said: “the cancer centre puts an end to the suffering of cancer patients who used to engage in a race with death behind the doors of hospitals abroad.”
Mauritania and the IAEA are continuing to work together to make the cancer centre fully operational. Local professionals are currently receiving long term training as specialists in radiotherapy, medical physics and as radiation therapy technologists through the IAEA’s technical cooperation programme. In addition, Mauritania receives joint IAEA and WHO support to ensure the integration of the national oncology centre within a comprehensive national cancer control programme. By providing technical assistance, the IAEA is committed to building capacities and training professionals for further development of the centre and cancer care in Mauritania.