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Source: International Atomic Energy Agency – IAEA

The discussion addressed ongoing human health challenges and the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on sustainable development efforts. Panelists shared concerns about the risk of the pandemic reversing advancements made toward achieving the SDGs. An IAEA survey carried out in April-May showed that the pandemic had disrupted key health services for diagnosing and treating conditions such as cancer and heart disease, particularly in low-income countries. Mr Grossi said that even in pandemic situations, supporting countries to effectively address non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, continued to be a very important area of the IAEA’s work.

“It is a scandal that as we speak half of the African continent does not have access to one radiotherapy unit,” he said. “It is a scandal that 300,000 women die every year from cervical cancer – something that is detectable, treatable and curable. We have the tech, we have the means, and we know what needs to be done. We are working with the WHO, civil society, UNAIDS and others to try to provide access to nuclear medicine to many more countries, and we are training oncologists, radiologists, medical physicists and specialists.”

Last year the IAEA joined the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) and other partners to launch the Women’s Cancers Partnership Initiative, to improve access to cancer services for women in low- and middle-income countries. The Agency is also part of the UN Joint Global Programme on Cervical Cancer Prevention and Control, which aims to achieve a 30 per cent reduction in deaths from cervical cancer by 2030 in participating countries. The IAEA’s work to enlarge the access of many countries to nuclear medicine contributes to the WHO’s global strategy for cervical cancer elimination, which includes a target of providing 90 per cent of women identified with cervical cancer access to treatment by 2030.

In direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IAEA launched ZODIAC (Zoonotic Disease Integrated Action) in June, a project which aims to strengthen global preparedness for future pandemics like COVID-19, by establishing a global network to help national laboratories in monitoring, surveillance, early detection and control of animal diseases and diseases that spread from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases), using nuclear or nuclear-derived techniques. For its implementation, close collaboration with international and United Nations organizations such as the WHO, FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health, is foreseen.

“We have to work hand-in-hand, use the power of diversity and accept that no one size fits all,” Mr Grossi said. “The IAEA is ready to do it.”

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