World Cancer Leaders’ Summit: IAEA Highlights Key Role of Radiation Medicine in Universal Health Care

The IAEA has highlighted the essential contribution of radiotherapy and nuclear medicine in diagnosing and treating cancer and underlined its ongoing commitment to supporting national efforts to ensure that those in need have access to high quality cancer care at the World Cancer Leaders' Summit in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

In a video statement to the opening session today, the IAEA Acting Director General Cornel Feruta said: The IAEA is committed to working to help ensure that all the people of the world gain access to the highest standards of cancer care. We welcome the commitment in the Declaration on Universal Health Coverage to improve access to health technologies, which are particularly important in the cancer field, and to promote stronger partnerships with the private sector.

The annual summit brings together around 350 global influencers and leaders in cancer control and public health from governments, United Nations agencies, academia, non-profit organisations and the private sector to further global cancer control efforts. This year they are considering ways to strengthen the provision of cancer services to help achieve universal health coverage, an initiative spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to ensure that all people have access to the full range of essential health services from health promotion to prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care.

This year special attention is being given to the topic of universal health coverage and the role of health systems for effective prevention and control in cancer care, and the IAEA has a key role to play in the global commitment towards these efforts, said May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the IAEA's Division of Human Health and speaker and panellist at the event. This is achieved through the support of nuclear techniques, such as nuclear medicine and radiotherapy for diagnosis, treatment and palliative care, all of which need to be integrated into healthcare systems to obtain good synergies, thereby contributing to the achievement of universal health coverage.

With increasing demands for cancer care being felt by governments all around the world, it is the low and middle income countries who are affected most. Many countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia for example, lack adequate infrastructure, trained staff and essential equipment to provide the cancer diagnostic and treatment services patients require.

At a panel on integrating radiotherapy into universal health coverage, Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, spoke about why cancer treatment is important for universal health coverage.Access to cancer care is vital if we are going to save lives and meet the obligations of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For cervical cancer, universal health coverage focuses attention on vaccination and early screening. At the same time, the screening process will undoubtedly also identify advanced cases of the disease, which could be treated effectively and cheaply with radiotherapy if it is available in the country.

In close collaboration with partners such as WHO, the IAEA works with governments to put national plans in place and develop funding proposals so that comprehensive cancer services can be provided close to the patients' homes. The IAEA also builds technical capacities to establish or expand cancer centres, and trains radiation oncologists, medical physicists, radiologists and other professionals, while also focusing on safety and regulatory infrastructures.

An example of this work included the recent inauguration of the first radiotherapy centre in northern Tajikistan, which is now treating cancer patients who were previously required to travel across 300 kilometres of mountainous roads to reach the country's only operational radiotherapy clinic in the capital, Dushanbe. In Tanzania, IAEA support over the last ten years has helped expand cancer treatment across the country. Delegates from several ministries in Lesotho recently worked with IAEA experts to finalise their plans to open the first national cancer facility in 2024. In addition, a Scientific Forum was held in September to hear from government officials and national experts how the IAEA's assistance to countries in cancer control over the last decade has made a difference and to consider how this can be strengthened in the coming years.

The IAEA has for many years made enhancing cancer care capacities in low and middle income countries a priority, with many specialist areas of the organisation dedicated to helping governments improve access to radiation medicine.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency