Statement made at the commemoration of World Cancer Day, an annual initiative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
02.02.2012 | Vienna, Austria  

Statement made on February 2, 2012, at a World Cancer Day commemoration event, an annual initiative of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Your Excellency Director General Yukiya Amano; Excellencies; Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I would like to begin by thanking the Director-General for inviting me to speak here today on the occasion of World Cancer Day.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide some insight into the impact of cancer and other health issues in developing countries, and to say few words about the work of OFID in combating the disease.

Global Health Problem

Cancer is a highly emotive subject. I imagine there is not a single person in this auditorium who has not been affected by it – whether directly or indirectly. Globally, it is a heavy and growing burden – more so, however, in the developing world.

In 2008, about 12.7 million cancer cases were reported worldwide, 56 percent of them in developing countries. The same year, there were 7.6 million cancer deaths. Almost two-thirds of these were in the developing world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the likely trend is for these figures to continue rising, due to population growth and increased longevity, among other factors.

Thus, by 2020, cancer is expected to kill more than ten million people a year. Almost 70 percent of new cancer deaths will be in the developing world. Tragically, forty percent these could be prevented.

For an institution like OFID, whose job it is to promote human and economic progress, such statistics are grave cause for concern. As, indeed, are all matters relating to the health status of the populations we work with. Health and the MDGs

It may be obvious to state that good health is a basic building block of human progress. But, I would still like to stress just how vital a strong, able-bodied population is to driving society forward.

Chronic disease and ill-health undermine productivity. They prevent children from attending school, and they hamper a woman’s ability to raise her family.

It is no coincidence that three of the eight Millennium Development Goals are directed at the health crisis in the developing world. Many of the other targets of the MDGs are unachievable without good health.

The health sector is rightly, therefore, very important to us and to everyone involved in development.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me to come back to the reason we are gathered here today - cancer. To be diagnosed with cancer is a terrifying prognosis for anyone. But imagine for a moment, if you will, what such a diagnosis means for a young mother in Africa.

Not for her the reassurance of the latest medical technology and drugs. Not for her access to specialist doctors and nurses. For this young woman, being diagnosed with cancer is, more often than not, a death sentence.

Unlike wealthier countries, where pre-cancer screening is an integral part of national healthcare programs, such tests are scarce in countries with limited financial resources and expertise.

In many cases, by the time an individual seeks medical treatment, he or she is already presenting late-stage symptoms. At which point, survival prospects are slim. And cancer claims another victim.

Clearly, the challenges of battling cancer are enormous. In developing countries, especially, it’s about improving awareness and prevention, as well as early diagnosis and access to treatment.

Radiotherapy equipment is in such short supply across Africa, that in many countries patients are dying even when their cancer is curable.

As a result, cancer is claiming more lives every year than HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Breast cancer alone, one of the easiest cancers to treat if it is caught early, kills about 270,000 women every year in the developing world.

This is shameful, and something we must not allow to continue, for human dignity stands at the core of our shared responsibilities as development practitioners. The wider implications of such loss of life to social and economic progress should also not be disregarded.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

OFID and the battle against cancer

In the battle against cancer, OFID has been working with many different partners in all developing regions of the world.

Between 2005 and 2009, for example, we gave substantial support to the King Hussein Cancer Center in Jordan, which has established itself as a regional center of excellence in cancer care in the Middle East.

We have helped expand radiotherapy and nuclear medicine in Ghana. And we have provided a Da Vinci Surgical System for the National Cancer Center in Egypt. We have also given several grants in support of screening, diagnostic and treatment initiatives in Palestine. I have had the opportunity to visit some of these centers and hospitals, and can testify to the excellent work that is being done in them.

As I speak, we are in discussions with the government of Sudan to assist in the upgrading of the Radiation and Isotope Center in Khartoum. This facility is the only one of its kind in the country and, on completion, will treat 30,000 patients per year.

Unfortunately, time constraints do not allow me to elaborate on all of our activities in combating cancer. However, I would like to go into more detail about a particularly successful initiative we have undertaken jointly with the IAEA through its Program of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).

Before I do that, I am pleased to have the opportunity today to publicly applaud the IAEA for taking a lead role in mobilizing the international community against the global cancer epidemic.

In PACT, the Agency has made measurable progress in expanding the availability of radiotherapy services and improving cancer prevention and control throughout the developing world.

For this, you are to be commended. And OFID, for one, is a proud ally in this effort.

Indeed, OFID has been a partner of the IAEA for many years – in fact, since long before PACT was launched. Our cooperation has taken us to almost all corners of the globe – from Africa to Asia to Latin America and even Europe, where we worked together on a PACT initiative in Albania.

In terms of grant assistance, OFID has contributed to date some US$1.5 million to five IAEA projects. We have also given a direct soft loan of US$7.5 million to Ghana for the expansion of cancer facilities, again with the support of the IAEA and PACT.

Today, our two organizations signed a new financing agreement, for a cancer control initiative in Vietnam, which seeks to promote prevention and early detection of the disease, among other important goals.

One of our greatest joint successes, however, is the Cancer Diseases Hospital in the Zambian capital Lusaka. OFID has provided soft loans totaling close to US$12 million for this facility, co-financing with the Zambian Government its initial construction and follow-up expansion.

The Agency has provided technical assistance for the training of medical staff and other capacity-building activities. Zambia has one of the highest cancer rates in Africa. Before the hospital opened in April 2007, patients faced slim survival prospects. There were no radiotherapy services, so patients had to go on a waiting list for treatment in Zimbabwe or South Africa. The cost of this was prohibitive.

And even although it was subsidized by the government, less than 10 percent of patients needing treatment actually received it. By 2004, there were some 5,000 people on the waiting list. How things have changed in a few short years! The new hospital is a state-of-the-art facility – the first national cancer hospital in the region outside of South Africa. It offers pioneering screening services, cutting–edge diagnostic and treatment equipment, and a corps of highly-qualified medical specialists. In 2008, its first full year of operations, it treated more than 1,000 new patients.

In 2010, 1,800 new patients passed through its doors, many of them coming from as far afield as Angola, Botswana, Malawi and Tanzania. Thanks to the impetus provided by the hospital, the country is close to setting up a national cancer control program that covers the five main pillars – screening, early detection, treatment, palliative care and research.

For Zambia to have progressed so far in such a brief space of time is an incredible achievement. And what’s more, it is an outstanding example of cooperation - financial and technical cooperation from us, the donors, combined with the commitment of the Zambian government and the hospital staff.

On World Cancer Day, I can’t think of a better source of inspiration for our global campaign.

Mr. Director-General, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your kind attention.