IAEA Review Prompts Regional Cooperation to Address Cancer Workforce Challenges in Iraq

A group of cancer care professionals from across Iraq and the wider region are working in tandem to support more effective and efficient cancer management in the country, following recommendations from an IAEA-led imPACT Review in November 2021.

The Review team – a group of regional and international experts brought together by the IAEA, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in response to a request from Iraq’s Ministry of Health – highlighted the importance of workforce training, especially in medical physics, radiation safety, radiation oncology and radiology, along with addressing the challenge of retaining qualified personnel for cancer care.

Immediate IAEA response

Following the review, officials from the Iraqi Ministry of Health were invited to observe cancer services at Jordan’s King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC) in December, and, separately, a group of Iraqi medical professionals learned about practices in Turkey’s radiotherapy facilities, as well as Turkey’s resource management approaches, outreach to charity organizations and innovative service delivery models. These scientific visits were financed through the IAEA technical cooperation programme.

“The imPACT Review fostered the creation of a network of doctors and regional experts from Iraq, Jordan and Turkey,” said Massoud Malek, the IAEA Programme Management Officer for Iraq. “And Jordan, for example, has hospital departments which share many similarities to those in Iraq, so experiences and practices are well suited for adaptation.”

Increasing the accessibility and affordability of cancer care is a key consideration for Iraq’s government and is in the focus of the government’s efforts.

“Iraqi medical specialists are eager to listen to regional and international experts, to get an independent assessment of gaps and to develop an action plan that will ultimately help the Iraqi people,” said Musab Alabboodi, Director of the Al-Amal National Oncology Hospital in Baghdad.

The imPACT Review strengthened cross-border professional networks and has opened up longer term regional mentoring and collaboration opportunities. The Iraqi and Jordanian authorities are developing a cooperation framework agreement covering a broad range of radiation medicine activities. This approach is in line with the IAEA’s strategic commitment to expanding South-South cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear technology as part of its contribution to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, Malek said.

Iraq’s prevailing cancers – breast, lung, colorectum, leukaemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma – account for nearly half of all cancers diagnosed in the country every year. The imPACT Review team collected data from a broad range of counterparts, including more than 15 cancer diagnosis and treatment facilities located throughout the country. Given the restrictions imposed by the pandemic, together with the challenge of reaching certain areas of the country, the imPACT Review was conducted virtually.

In order to ensure safe, secure and effective use of radiation sources in Iraq for cancer treatment, the expert team also recommended the adoption of a nuclear law as an immediate step.

Source: International Atomic Energy Agency