IAEA and Islamic Development Bank Harness the Power of Innovation to Address Women’s Cancers

Christel Deskins

A year after the launch of the IsDB-IAEA Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative, representatives of the two organizations, donors and beneficiary countries reviewed the progress made thus far and how to leverage innovative ideas to fight women’s cancers. Over 185 participants attended this virtual event held today on the margins of […]

A year after the launch of the IsDB-IAEA Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative, representatives of the two organizations, donors and beneficiary countries reviewed the progress made thus far and how to leverage innovative ideas to fight women’s cancers. Over 185 participants attended this virtual event held today on the margins of the 64th IAEA General Conference.

Women in many low- and middle-income countries lack access to lifesaving cancer care, particularly for breast and cervical cancers. This Initiative intends to increase access to the diagnosis and treatment of these two cancers and builds on years of collaboration between the IAEA and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to support common Member States in improving cancer control. Since its launch, the two organizations have worked to jumpstart implementation of the Initiative and bring additional partners on board to maximize the impact for women and girls.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi spoke of the progress achieved to date under the Initiative, which includes helping countries develop robust funding requests and mobilizing new partners and donors. “The Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative with IsDB has already shown what can be achieved for our Member States with new financing, partners and strengthened relations with UN agencies. But this is just the beginning. This Partnership can and must go to higher heights.”

“As the global cancer burden continues to increase, international organisations, including multi-lateral development banks, are united in the desire to work together to address this challenge,” said IsDB President Bandar Hajjar. “Developing new and strengthening existing partnerships is one of my key priorities for the Islamic Development Bank. I am very proud of this important partnership Initiative to fight women’s cancers, which will contribute to saving over a million women’s lives from breast cancer and almost 4 million deaths from cervical cancer over the next decade.”

Increased access to cancer care for women

Representatives from countries benefitting from the Initiative provided updates on progress achieved in expanding access to cancer care for women within their borders. Seventeen low- and middle-income countries are anticipated to receive support initially, and additional countries are expected to join as the programme progresses.

“Over the past decade, the Government of Uzbekistan with the help of the IAEA and the IsDB has significantly strengthened the radiotherapy and brachytherapy infrastructure in 15 cancer diagnosis and treatment centres, leading to improved access to quality diagnostic and treatment cancer services on a national scale and particularly benefitting women with breast and cervical cancer,” said Shakhrukh Sharakhmetov, Deputy Minister of Health. “However, we want to go further. Therefore, the Government of Uzbekistan and key specialists in the country, joined by the IsDB and internationally renowned experts from the IAEA, are preparing a comprehensive project to further develop oncology services that meet the highest standards.”

He noted that this multimillion-dollar project comprises an integrated and complementary set of planned activities ranging from screening to diagnosis and treatment. It will also include large-scale and state-of-the art training and capacity building of key oncology staff in brachytherapy, a vital technology that offers life-saving radiation treatment to women with cervical cancer.

Sika Bella Kaboré, First Lady of Burkina Faso, described the cancer burden in the country and urged additional measures in the fight against cancer. “In 2018 in Burkina Faso, 11,643 new cancer cases were registered in health districts and centres. If nothing is done, in the next five years we will count more than 16,000 new cases of cancer annually,” she said, noting that two centres for radiotherapy are currently being established in the country. “The progress made since the launch of the Initiative should lead to accelerating the mobilization of partners and donors to mitigate the pain of women affected by breast and cervical cancer, as well as their families.”

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer and leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women in Bangladesh, followed by cervical cancer, said Mosharraf Hossain, Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission of Bangladesh (BAEC). There is ongoing collaboration between Bangladesh and the IAEA to improve cancer diagnostics and treatment across the country, particularly for women in underserved communities including in rural and coastal areas.

Hossain talked about the development of a new project, coordinated by BAEC, which is currently under review by a multidisciplinary team of experts in the IAEA. “The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission looks forward to seeing the project proposal finalized and appreciates the role of both IAEA and IsDB to help launch this programme that will significantly increase access to lifesaving cancer services and help women and girls to thrive,” he added.

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