IAEA Director General in Morocco: Strengthening Action against Cancer and Pandemics

Morocco is a staunch supporter in promoting nuclear science in Africa and will remain a significant player in addressing cancer care access and responding to zoonotic disease outbreaks in the continent, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said this week in Rabat. Mr Grossi was in Morocco for a three-day visit to strengthen IAEA collaboration with the country, tour its nuclear facilities and radiotherapy centres, and meet with its political leaders.

“Morocco is a key player in Africa for triangularly transferring expertise, skills and technology for sustainable development. The IAEA supports Morocco’s efforts to promote nuclear science for a safer, healthier, and fairer world,” Mr Grossi said in a meeting on Wednesday with Nasser Bourita, Minister of Foreign Affairs, African Cooperation and Moroccan Expatriates. The two spoke on continued collaboration between the IAEA and Morocco, perspectives for Africa, global energy security, nuclear non-proliferation and opportunities for nuclear science in addressing global challenges such as climate change and food security.

United in fighting cancer and disease

On Monday, Mr Grossi signed an agreement with the Moroccan Ministry of Health and Social Protection aimed at increasing cooperation in fighting cancer and zoonotic diseases – animal diseases that have passed on to humans, such as COVID-19, Zika and Ebola.

The agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding, establishes areas of cooperation in which the IAEA and Morocco will work together within the IAEA’s Rays of Hope initiative. Launched last February at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Rays of Hope looks to increase cancer care access in low- and middle-income countries, with particular focus on Africa, where over 70 per cent of the population does not have access to radiotherapy. The initiative seeks to establish regional centres to facilitate sustainable regional cooperation in addressing cancer care shortage. Morocco will participate in this initiative and promote the use of radiation therapy, an essential tool in the cure and palliation of cancer and is fundamental for treating over half of all cancer patients.

“Morocco has been dedicated for years to support the systematic fight against late diagnosis of cancer and supporting targeted treatment,” said Mr Grossi. Morocco is one of the six initial countries participating in the United Nations Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control and has been working towards a sustainable high quality national cervical cancer control programme. The country also shares its experience with fellow African countries, and established with the support of the IAEA the first master’s programme in radiopharmacy in Africa, to support the education and specialization of African radiopharmacists from French speaking countries.

The IAEA-Morocco agreement also lends the country’s support to another IAEA initiative: Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action, or ZODIAC. Established in June 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ZODIAC aims to help countries prevent zoonotic pandemics by using a systematic and integrated approach to strengthen the preparedness and capabilities of countries to rapidly detect and timely respond to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases.

“We are all still reeling from the effects of a pandemic that caught the world by surprise – and our reaction was immediate, global, and continues – Morocco is one of the 130 countries the IAEA supported with the most accurate detection technology, RT-PCR,” Mr Grossi said.

Morocco is also experienced in working with the IAEA in tackling animal diseases, having in 2019 worked with the IAEA’s Veterinary Laboratories network to identify and address a contagious strain of Foot and Mouth Disease.

“The signing of this memorandum comes at the right time, with the ongoing reforms in the health sector and challenges faced by Morocco. The crisis experienced by the whole world has created a collective awareness of the importance of investing in a resilient health system, better endowed with material and human resources and is able to meet the needs of the population and emergencies,” said Meziane Belfkih, Secretary General of Morocco’s Ministry of Health and Social Protection, on behalf of Ait Taleb, Minister of Health, during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.

Beyond disease

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi visited the National Center for Energy and Nuclear Science and Technology and was given a tour of its facilities, including a research reactor. (Photo: D. Candano/IAEA)

On Monday, Mr Grossi met with Leila Benali, Minister of Energy Transition and Sustainable Development and the President of the United Nations Environment Assembly. Mr Grossi described Morocco’s expertise in nuclear science as an invaluable asset for development in the country, and the two exchanged perspectives on economy and nuclear energy worldwide, including small modular reactors (SMRs).

On Tuesday, Mr Grossi visited the National Center for Energy and Nuclear Science and Technology (CNESTEN). He toured CNESTEN’s facilities, observed the centre’s work on water management and radioisotope production, and described the contributions made by the nuclear reactor and nuclear security centre as impressive. “CNESTEN shows that nuclear science can make a contribution to peace and development,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr Grossi met with Abdellatif Miraoui, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research. The two discussed the work and capabilities of the IAEA’s laboratories in Seibersdorf, Austria in addressing food security, water management, and health challenges, and agreed to cooperate on these issues and women’s empowerment in science.

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