Grossi highlights IAEA support in fighting cancer

08 February 2021

Ongoing support to developing countries is essential to ensure adequate cancer care during the COVID-19 pandemic, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in a panel discussion held on 4 February to mark World Cancer Day. Panelists called for more and urgent action to address the wide gap in diagnosis and therapy access between developed and developing countries.

Grossi speaking during the panel discussion (Image: D Calma / IAEA)

Most new cancer cases today occur in low and middle-income countries, and COVID-19 has further strained the capacities of health infrastructure, and strengthening these healthcare systems is key in the global fight against both cancer and COVID-19.

"This event is an opportunity to be reminded of where we are in our continuous efforts; we can't stop for a single minute in fighting cancer," Grossi said in his opening remarks. Speaking from the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna to a global audience online, he noted that COVID-19 is stretching national medical services, disrupting supply chains and putting up numerous other barriers to cancer patients seeking the urgent care they need. He highlighted that a recent IAEA survey had found that in March/April 2020 diagnostic procedures had fallen on average by more than half in the 72 countries surveyed.

The IAEA supports national governments in using nuclear science and technology to better diagnose, treat and manage cancer. It also helps countries in procuring equipment, training medical professionals and securing resources from donors. It said the pandemic had not stopped it from providing support in these areas, and it is cooperating with the World Health Organisation to provide assistance around the world.

May Abdel-Wahab, director of the IAEA's Division of Human Health, highlighted the importance of radiation medicine in the modern management of cancer patients, and shared how the IAEA is promoting and developing radiation medicine in Member States in light of the pandemic.

"The IAEA has supported medical professionals working in radiation oncology, nuclear medicine and radiology practices through guidance documents, webinars and publications to ensure the continuity of these essential services," she said.

Lisa Stevens, director of the IAEA's Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT), added: "In spite of the pandemic, we were able to support three Member States in reviews of their cancer control activities, and 13 Member States held meetings with international experts to review progress and ongoing needs identified in previous imPACT Reviews. We also were able to continue to mobilise financial resources to support cancer activities."

The IAEA plans to hold its International Conference on Advances in Radiation Oncology (ICARO-3) on 16-19 February. This will review best practices in radiotherapy and discuss the future potential of technological, medical physics and molecular/biological innovations using the most advanced breakthroughs of nuclear and nuclear derived science and applications.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News