We normally associate the IAEA with monitoring nuclear power and weapons programmes in countries such as Iran and North Korea. Its current head, Mohamed El-Baradei, ever the diplomat and much respected, is often seen on television talking about such issues. I have much respect for him, a voice of calm and reason in wars of rhetoric that seem to be on the brink of actual wars.
However, there are other aspects to the agency’s work. As its charter says, “the IAEA carries out programmes to maximize the useful contribution of nuclear technology to society while verifying its peaceful use”.
One little known activity of the IAEA is, therefore, the promotion of radiotherapy techniques, equipment and training for cancer treatment in the “developing” world through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).
In most developed countries there is a ratio of one radiotherapy machine per 250,000 inhabitants. In developing countries it is more common to find ratios of one machine per several million inhabitants. Fifteen countries in Africa have no radiotherapy facilities at all. In Ethiopia the IAEA has provided one machine which serves a population of c. 60 million (i.e. comparable to the U.K. which has 207 machines, one per 290,000 inhabitants: reference). In its first four years of operation 1300 people were treated with a four year survival rate of 50%. The survival rate is not as good as the developed world, principally because diagnosis is frequently at a stage when the disease is far advanced. The IAEA is working with 22 countries (not ours) in Africa.
The IAEA estimates that $2.5 billion over ten years is needed to provide adequate facilities in the developing world with half that sum being allocated to training (refreshingly given Friday´s post on human resources).
The recent Cancer Control in Africa conference (posts here, here and here) was a joint initiative between AfrOx and the IAEA.