UICC World Congress 2008

IAEA/PACT Joins Global Cancer Community to Declare War on Cancer

8 September 2008

The World Cancer Congress of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), which took place in Geneva 27-31 August, once again turned the spotlight on the cancer crisis facing developing nations. Currently, some 25 million people worldwide are living with cancer and numbers are increasing. But while survival rates are improving in affluent countries, the toll is worsening in the developing world.

Drawing attention to the shift in cancer burdens, keynote speakers called on affluent nations to share their knowledge and experience of tackling the disease with those less able to cope. In her opening address, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan told congress delegates that more than 72% of all cancer deaths now occur in low and middle-income countries. “This is a shocking statistic, with huge implications for human suffering, health systems, health budgets, and the drive to reduce poverty,” she said. “The time is right to make cancer control a development priority.”

As one of the collaborating partners of the UICC Congress, PACT participated in meetings and workshops, as well as fronting an IAEA information stand with posters, brochures and technical publications from across the Agency, which attracted wide interest among delegates. A special session devoted to PACT activities, co-chaired by WHO Director Dr. Benedetto Saraceno and the Director of India's Tata Memorial Hospital Dr. Ketayun A Dinshaw, drew a capacity audience. Representatives of PACT Model Demonstration Site (PMDS) countries Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Vietnam reported progress made so far in implementing effective cancer care and control plans in their countries. Nicaragua's report was circulated in print.

Highlighting the increasing profile of IAEA/PACT within the global cancer community, the session also heard from a number of PACT's international partners concerning the importance of the IAEA's contribution through radiotherapy and nuclear medicine to the battle against cancer. “We are grateful for the growing interest in IAEA/PACT, which reflects the importance of the work we are doing with our partners to combat inequalities in health care, especially in low-income developing countries where early detection and treatment of almost all cancers remains elusive,” said Massoud Samiei, Head of PACT Programme Office. “It was widely agreed that a joint WHO/IAEA programme on cancer control would be essential for the worldwide coordination of this huge effort.”

Massoud Samiei's words were underlined at the World Cancer Summit, held within the framework of the congress. More than 60 leading policymakers and health experts gathered to adopt an action plan aimed at halting the cancer crisis in developing countries. Called the World Cancer Declaration, the plan lists specific targets to be met by 2020. They include cutting cancer risk factors such as tobacco, alcohol and obesity; implementing universal vaccination programmes to fight Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV); improving early detection and diagnosis; and encouraging trained cancer health workers to stay in their home countries.

The declaration also recognises the need for early detection and the development of sufficient treatment, rehabilitation and palliative care facilities, in addition to staff specifically trained in cancer care. The importance of education to help dispel the misconceptions and half-truths which so often deter cancer patients from seeking help was also underscored. The declaration's objectives coincide well with the aims of IAEA's cancer related activities.

The summit was chaired by former UN commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, who called for a revision of the Millennium Development Goals to include cancer. Mrs Robinson said that access to effective health services should be available to all people. “Ultimately, it's a question of human rights and, above all, of human dignity. Adoption of the World Cancer Declaration is another step in a real commitment — a vision — of how to tackle this huge world health issue,” she said.

This year's UICC Congress was attended by over 2500 participants from more than 120 countries and included 400 leading speakers as well as 1200 posters and five satellite sessions. Topics covered the complete spectrum of cancer control, from research to treatment, and from prevention to palliative care. Sessions on tobacco control, cervical cancer prevention, and breast health programmes in low-income countries were just a few which attracted large audiences.

A special feature of this year's congress was the first UICC film festival, “Reel Lives: the Cancer Chronicles”, which showcased a selection of documentary films — made by both amateurs and professionals — focusing on cancer and how it impacts human life. The winner, “Chrigu”, tells the powerful story of a young man whose world is turned upside-down when he is diagnosed with advanced-stage cancer.

The UICC World Cancer Congress is held every two years. The next one will be held in Beijing in August 2010. PACT aims to be there with more successes from Agency cancer programmes.