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WHO, IAEA join forces to fight cancer in developing countries

News release

WHO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today announced the launch of a Joint Programme on Cancer Control, aimed at strengthening and accelerating efforts to fight cancer in the developing world.

The agreement reflects growing international concern over cancer as one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Cancer accounted for 7.4 million deaths in 2004 (around 13% of all deaths).

“In low- and middle-income countries, cancer overwhelmingly affects the poor. This has huge implications for human suffering, health systems, health budgets and the drive to reduce poverty,” said WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan, who signed the joint programme agreement with IAEA Director General Dr Mohamed ElBaradei.

If current knowledge were put into practice, at least one third of cancer cases could be prevented, another third could be detected early, treated and cured; and suffering could be alleviated through palliative care for patients with advanced cancers.

“The IAEA has long provided radiation technology and expertise to developing countries, but radiotherapy alone cannot halt the growing global cancer crisis,” said Dr ElBaradei. “The Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy was created to help build a broader, more integrated approach to cancer care and control. The joint programme with WHO underlines our conviction that only through combined effort and collaboration can we bring hope and relief to those whose lives are threatened by cancer.”

Efforts in the joint programme are focusing on six model demonstration sites (PMDS) in Albania, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Viet Nam and Yemen. Joint efforts will also respond to requests for cancer control assessment and programme development assistance in low- and middle-income countries.

WHO and the IAEA have complementary mandates when it comes to fighting cancer. WHO is the directing and coordinating agency for health in the UN system, while the IAEA’s expertise in radiation medicine is a vital element of cancer diagnosis and cure strategies. The joint programme will provide the framework for the two organizations to dovetail their work, building on their areas of expertise to create a more coordinated and robust approach to combating cancer in low- and middle-income countries.

The formation of a WHO-IAEA joint programme began in May 2005 when the World Health Assembly adopted a far-reaching resolution (WHA58.22) in response to the dramatic increase in cancer incidence worldwide. Later that year, the IAEA established its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT) to help expand radiotherapy capacity in developing countries and build partnerships to address the huge disparities that exist in cancer care services. Since then, PACT, WHO and other key international cancer organizations have undertaken increasingly productive collaboration, working together to tackle the crisis on a broad, multidisciplinary front.

According to the terms of the agreement, the WHO-IAEA joint programme will “coordinate activities and resources supporting the development and implementation of sustainable comprehensive cancer control programmes in low- and medium-income countries.” The successful collaborations with other key international cancer organizations will continue to be a cornerstone of the joint programme.

WHO and IAEA aim to work ever more closely with partners to help develop the kind of effective, integrated national cancer control programmes (NCCPs) needed in developing countries to control cancer. Such programmes include cancer prevention, early detection, screening, diagnosis, treatment, palliative care and monitoring including cancer registries. NCCPs fit in the broader WHO framework to strengthen health systems with a major focus on primary health care.

For more information contact:

WHO Department of Communications, Geneva

Thomas Abraham
Mobile: +41 79 516 3136
E-mail: abrahamt@who.int

Fadéla Chaib
Mobile: +41 79 475 5556
E-mail: chaibf@who.int

Gaya Gamhewage
Mobile: + 41 79 475 5563
E-mail: gamhewageg@who.int

Media inquiries
Telephone: +41 22 791 2222
E-mail: mediainquiries@who.int

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