Creating Blueprint for National Cancer Programmes: Race Supported by IAEA

For every government, making the best use of available resources is key to saving lives in the race against cancer. This is especially true in low- and middle-income countries.

In Ecuador, after detailed reviews of the country's cancer control priorities, health authorities are finalizing their new national cancer control programme (NCCP) to address the country's cancer burden. The programme builds on a 2019 cancer control assessment and covers priority areas from prevention to palliation. Ecuador is one of 10 countries at the cusp of starting implementation of such a strategic cancer control programme, with the support of the IAEA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

"An NCCP is part of the blueprint that national health authorities use to reduce cancer incidence and mortality while improving the quality of life of cancer patients," said Lisa Stevens, Director of the IAEA Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT). "The planning and implementation of an NCCP can help countries make the best use of available resources."

In 2017, the World Health Assembly recommended that all countries develop NCCPs to guide cancer prevention and management activities. The ability to formulate realistic and robust cancer control strategies and plans, while considering available resources, is a challenge many countries are turning to the IAEA, IARC and WHO to help overcome.

The three organizations work in close cooperation and offer support to countries in engaging teams of global experts with experience in developing and implementing cancer control plans. These experts advise teams from Ministries of Health to design realistic and effective NCCPs, tailored to national needs. The ten countries currently finalizing NCCPs are Benin, Burundi, Chad, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The foundation for cancer control

Just as the foundations of a house are crucial for it to stand over time, so it is essential for countries to have strong cancer control programmes to protect and care for their people. Aligning NCCP development with key national health policies and country-specific cancer burdens, risk factors, existing health infrastructure, available resources, as well as the socioeconomic context is crucial but not enough. NCCPs, once established, need to be recalibrated over time to best meet evolving national needs. For instance, four workshops, with participation from international experts, are being held in Chad this month to support the national technical team in areas such as governance, prevention and palliation. The workshops will serve to strengthen Chad's capacity to review and redraft its cancer control plan.

From local to global

At the same time, developing an NCCP strengthens the capacity of national experts in cancer control, and they can in turn support other countries.

When the Ministry of Health in Zambia began receiving NCCP support, radiation oncologist Kennedy Lishimpi was part of the drafting team for his country's own cancer plan. He now serves as the lead expert to help Sierra Leone plan its cancer activities and maximize the impact of large upcoming investments in cancer control.

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