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As cancer cases rise in Albania, UN agencies join forces to help fight disease

As cancer cases rise in Albania, UN agencies join forces to help fight disease

The United Nations nuclear watchdog and the world body’s health agency are teaming up to try to slow the spread of cancer in Albania, where the number of diagnosed cases has surged in the past two decades.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have helped Albanian authorities draft a national cancer control programme to serve the small country’s population of 3.6 million people, IAEA said in a news report issued yesterday.

More than 4,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in Albania, up from around 2,800 in 1990, and cancer is now second only to cardiovascular disease as a cause of death. Albanian health specialists say changes in lifestyle since the fall of the Communist regime, connected to food, smoking, pollution, physical activity, stress and other factors, have significantly increased the risk factors.

More than two-thirds of cancer cases in Albania are diagnosed too late for effective treatment, a common feature of low-income countries. Palliative care services are also extremely limited.

The IAEA said it is also providing expertise and equipment and facilitating training in fields such as radiation oncology through its Programme of Action for Cancer Therapy (PACT).

Mikiko Sawanishi, the agency’s technical cooperation programme management officer for Albania, said safety was the priority for the IAEA.

“Because of the specialized nature of radiation medicine, we are working closely with the Government to ensure the [national] oncology institute receives full support and that its personnel are competent,” she said.