The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) agreed today to join forces and scale up efforts to tackle cervical cancer, a disease that kills over 310,000 women every year, particularly affecting those living with HIV in developing countries.
In a Memorandum of Understanding signed at IAEA headquarters in Vienna, the two organizations pledged to increase collaboration, especially to help low- and middle- income countries, where 85 per cent of annual cervical cancer deaths occur.
Around 70 per cent of women who develop cervical cancer require radiotherapy to beat the disease. The IAEA helps countries in the use nuclear and radiation medicine to treat all types of cancer.
The agreement foresees support to national programmes and the mobilization of resources to expand prevention, diagnosis and treatment services, training of health professionals, research and activities to raise awareness on the link between HIV and cervical cancer.
According to UNAIDS, women living with HIV are five times more likely to develop invasive cervical cancer. Women infected with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV) – a major culprit behind the development of cervical cancer – also face a double risk of acquiring HIV.
“Cervical cancer is one of those cancers that are perfectly treatable and curable if you live in Vienna, Buenos Aires, Rome or Paris,” said IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi at the opening of an IAEA event to mark World Cancer Day. “If you happen to live in a country with limited access to radiotherapy, it is something that can kill you.” He added that the partnership with UNAIDS was very important to maximize efforts in the mission to help countries tackle cancer.
Radiotherapy is a key tool to eliminate tumours and alleviate pain, but access to this vital and cost-effective treatment option is lacking in many countries. According to the IAEA’s Directory of Radiotherapy Centres (DIRAC), one-third of low- and middle-income countries do not have adequate radiation medicine services to meet patient needs. In Africa alone, 28 countries do not currently have a single radiotherapy unit.
“Like HIV, cervical cancer is a disease of health, gender and socio-economic inequalities for women and girls all over the world. Services must be expanded and integrated as an investment in the lives of women and girls and to uphold their right to health,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS. “How is it fair that 90 per cent of girls in high income countries have access to the human papillomavirus vaccine, yet in low- and middle-income countries just 10 per cent have access?”
The IAEA assists its Member States in combating a growing incidence of chronic diseases such as cancer. This includes support in resource mobilization, procurement of equipment, training of medical professionals, research and in carrying out quality assessments.