Rays of Hope: Widening Global Access to Cancer Care

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Rays of Hope – the IAEA’s flagship cancer initiative – had an impactful first year, with ‘first wave’ countries already seeing significant improvements in their radiotherapy infrastructure, and the five inaugural Anchor Centres being formally established at a side event during the IAEA’s 67th General Conference today.

In high-income countries nearly all patients have access to radiotherapy. In middle-income countries fewer than 60 percent do. In low-income countries, only one in ten people has access to this life-saving treatment. Rays of Hope: Cancer Care for All sets out to improve that by supporting the establishment and expansion of radiotherapy services around the world.

“Each individual death is a tragedy. The fact that cancers that are routinely diagnosed and successfully treated in high income countries are killing increasing numbers of people in developing countries is an injustice,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said in his opening remarks to the General Conference.

The IAEA Rays of Hope initiative officially began on World Cancer Day 2022, with seven ‘first wave’ countries on board: Benin, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, and Senegal. All face significant cancer burdens, and like most developing countries, do not have enough access to radiotherapy or medical imaging.

Since the initiative began the countries have received a range of key radiotherapy and medical imaging machines – as well as training for the medical professionals needed to operate the equipment and provide safe and timely diagnostic and treatment services.

Malawi’s Minister of Health, Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, spoke of the importance of being able to soon provide in-country support to their cancer patients. “We are a testimony of what the initiative is doing in terms of training our young scientists in nuclear related fields, providing expert services and procurement of radiotherapy equipment. As a country, we are delighted that very soon we will be able to treat our patients in Malawi.”  

Since the launch of Rays of Hope, a further 67 Member States have also requested to join at the national level.

These will be supported by a range of Anchor Centres, including the five first-announced today: the University Hospital Centre of Bab El-Oued and Pierre and Marie Curie Cancer Centre (Algeria); King Hussein Cancer Center (Jordan); Institut National d’Oncologie (Morocco); Atomic Energy Cancer Hospital, Nuclear Medicine, Oncology and Radiotherapy Institute, Islamabad (Pakistan); and Ege University Faculty of Medicine (Türkiye).

All five are regional leaders in cancer care, with decades of experience participating in IAEA coordinated research projects, training fellows together with the Agency, supporting IAEA training missions and courses, and providing education and training programmes in radiation medicine-related disciplines. 

“By building up regional expertise in medical imaging and radiotherapy and also increasing access to diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients, these Anchor Centres will have an enduring impact,” said May Abdel-Wahab, the Director of the IAEA’s Division of Human Health.

Participants at the event also heard how donor countries have responded generously to the initiative’s call for funds, with over €42 million contributed for Rays of Hope. Private sector donors have also demonstrated interest with monetary contributions amounting to €710,000 contributed as well as some in-kind support.

An additional in kind contribution to make advanced cancer treatment available to more patients, and support Anchor Centres, was also announced by the CEO of Elekta, Gustav Salford, at the side event.

The IAEA and Elekta signed a partnership agreement in August this year, to improve cancer treatment with the intent to close the gap in access to radiation therapy around the world.

“It is encouraging to see the ongoing interest in Rays of Hope. There is an incredible opportunity when working together to increase the access to life saving cancer treatment,” said Lisa Stevens, the Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Cancer Therapy division.

Donors and partners to Rays of Hope include:  Australia, Belgium, Finland, France, Israel, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Monaco, the Russian Federation, Spain, Sweden and the United States of America.

The equipment purchased for first wave countries so far includes: one cyclotron, three linear accelerators (LINACs), two SPECT-CT scanners and two quality assessment and control machines. With a SPECT-CT, a CT simulator, a mammography machine, an ultrasound scanner, a digital X ray machine, another cyclotron, and a PET-CT scanner on the way. 

Under Rays of Hope, the IAEA has also started training fellows for first wave countries in different fields including 13 medical physicists, four nuclear medicine technologists, 14 radiation oncologists, seven nuclear medicine physicians, 16 radiation therapy technologists, seven radiopharmacists, seven oncology nurses, seven radiologists and four medical imaging technologists.

“We need to scale up that support so that we can do more towards closing the growing gap between the challenges our Member States face and the tools they have to overcome them. Unfortunately, the need is still greater than what we have achieved so far,” DG Grossi said in his opening statement to the General Conference.  

If you are interested in becoming a Rays of Hope partner, click here.

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