UN nuclear agency calls for lighter, cheaper cancer therapy equipment

IAEA says making radiotherapy accessible is a key component in any comprehensive cancer control programme

28 April 2009 – The United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today issued a challenge to manufacturers of medical equipment to make portable and more affordable cancer therapy equipment.

“Making radiotherapy accessible is a key component in any comprehensive cancer control programme,” said Werner Burkart, IAEA Deputy Director General for the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

“To make this a reality, it would be heartening to see the development of sturdier and lighter equipment that can be used not only in hospitals in large urban centres, but also in resource-poor settings in the field,” he added.

Mr. Burkart invited 400 global radiotherapy specialists from nearly 100 countries and nearly two dozen representatives from the radiotherapy equipment industry at the start of the International Conference on Advances in Radiation Oncology in Vienna to take on his challenge.

The three-day IAEA gathering – also attended by representatives of 24 international institutions dedicating to fighting cancer, including the UN World Health Organization (WHO) – will allow those working in cancer therapy to discuss new and old radiooncology technologies.

“New technologies represent advances,” which result in “better ways to diagnose and treat patients,” the Deputy Director General noted.

But he underscored that massive private sector investment is essential to slash the prohibitively high costs of acquiring such equipment, given that cancer is predicted to take over from heart disease as the world’s number one killer by 2010.

The IAEA, which seeks to promote public-private partnerships, is concerned that many developing nations will not have national cancer control strategies in place until a crisis arises.

The agency is actively working with Member States to “address the problem before the threat of a cancer epidemic becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Mr. Burkart said.

The IAEA’s Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy, or PACT, is an “umbrella programme” designed to liaise among institutions dedicated to tackling cancer.

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