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IAEA challenges radiotherapy industry to produce cheaper equipment

W. Burkart NA DDG, Photo: Dean Calma, MTPI The International Atomic Energy Agency today issued a challenge to medical equipment manufacturers, calling for the development of cancer therapy equipment that is robust, portable, easy to use and more affordable.

"Making radiotherapy accessible is a key component in any comprehensive cancer control programme - to make this a reality, it would be heartening to see the development of sturdier and lighter equipment that can be used not only in hospitals in large urban centres, but also in resource-poor settings in the field, for example," said Werner Burkart, IAEA Deputy Director General for the Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications.

Speaking to 400 international radiotherapy specialists from 96 countries, and 22 representatives from the radiotherapy equipment industry, Burkart issued the challenge at the opening ceremony of the International Conference on Advances in Radiation Oncology, which started in Vienna today, under auspices of the IAEA, and partly sponsored by industry.

The three-day conference, which also includes representatives from 24 international organizations dedicated to combating cancer, including the World Health Organization (WHO), and its International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), presents practitioners and policymakers in the area of cancer therapy with the opportunity to exchange experiences and to review new and old technologies in radio oncology.

"New technologies represent advances - better ways to diagnose and treat patients," said Werner Burkart. But acquiring new technology can be expensive both in terms of acquiring and improving infrastructure and in human resource development. "Without the private sector and its massive investment in this area, this would not be possible," he said.

As a Specialised Agency in the United Nations system, the IAEA is engaged in bringing the private sector and industry into the development equation, bridging the public and private spheres through effective partnerships. "The IAEA makes public-private partnerships more than buzz words: besides their commitment to our efforts through the donation of equipment to some of the IAEA-sponsored cancer treatment demonstration sites, we are grateful to the 22 companies whose voluntary contributions were used to support the travel of delegates from developing countries to attend this conference," said Werner Burkart.

With non-communicable diseases such as cancer on the rise - the disease is predicted to take over from heart disease as the world's number one killer by 2010 - the IAEA is concerned that overburdened with pressing challenges in development, many countries will fail or postpone to develop crucial national cancer control strategies until there is in fact a crisis.

"We are working with Member States and partners to highlight the need for concerted cancer control strategies that will address the problem before the threat of a cancer epidemic becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," said Burkart. The IAEA launched three years ago its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy - PACT, an "umbrella programme" designed to work as a liaison point among institutions dedicated to the battle against cancer. to solve problems related to the disease.