The importance of lifesaving medical imaging as part of widening global access to cancer care, was highlighted at a Women in Nuclear IAEA event at the Agency’s Vienna headquarters last week.
IAEA Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, the Minister for Public Health for Uruguay, Karina Rando, and United States Ambassador to the Vienna Office of the United Nations and to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Laura Holgate, were among international and IAEA experts highlighting the importance of nuclear technologies as one of the most powerful tools in the fight against cancer.
Highlighting how the IAEA flagship initiative Rays of Hope is helping close the gap in cancer care access in low- and middle-income countries, Mr Grossi said the IAEA was making an “intense effort” to expand access to medical imaging across the world.
“It is not acceptable, morally or ethically or in any other way, that cancers that here in Vienna are perfectly curable are a death sentence in so many countries all around the world.”
Uruguay’s Minister of Public Health Karina Rando spoke of Uruguay’s legacy in the field of cancer care, highlighting Raul Leborgne, a Uruguayan radiographer who invented the first mammography device in the 1950s.
“Uruguay has consistently shown dedication to addressing women’s health issues,” she said. “There are ongoing national programmes and initiatives that focus on diseases like breast and cervical cancer, emphasizing early detection, awareness and treatment.”
In Uruguay, every year, 2000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer and 700 die due to the disease. In terms of cervical cancer, annually there are 300 new diagnoses, and 130 deaths. More than half of the people diagnosed with cervical cancer are younger than 50 years old.
US Ambassador Laura Holgate, who serves as the Permanent Representative of the United States to the IAEA, said the Rays of Hope initiative was a prime example of the benefits of expanding access of peaceful nuclear technologies around the world.
“Cancer currently accounts for one in every six deaths worldwide,” she said. “According to estimates from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the number of global cancer cases is expected to grow significantly in the next two decades, increasing the burden on countries with limited or no access to such care. Unfortunately, the heaviest burden will fall on low and middle-income countries, where over 70 per cent of cancer deaths are expected to occur, yet these areas receive only five per cent of global spending in this area.
“Every single cancer patient deserves access to lifesaving treatments.”
The importance of building capacity in terms of a skilled workforce to meet the increasing demand for nuclear technologies was also discussed, with emphasis placed on the importance of greater inclusivity and diversity.
May Abdel-Wahab, Director of the Division of Human Health at the IAEA, said delivering better access to cancer care remained a challenge: “We cannot forget that equipment alone will not usher in an era of equity for all. Urgently increasing the number of well-trained professionals globally will be key for success and sustainability.”
The importance of promoting greater gender parity in nuclear professions and in medicine and research was also stressed by many participants at the event, to address gender bias in medical treatment which could otherwise have a negative impact on health outcomes for women.
“The current workforce, even in high income countries, exhibits gender imbalance,” said Abdel-Wahab.
The IAEA has a number of initiatives promoting greater gender equality in the nuclear field, including its flagship Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme, which provides female students with scholarships for Master’s programmes and an opportunity to pursue an internship facilitated by the IAEA.
The event was held by the IAEA’s Women in Nuclear network, an organization committed to the advancement of qualified women in the nuclear and radiation professions.