International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi had talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a recent visit to Damascus. The Agency said the IAEA and Syria will have a new engagement with a view to providing confidence in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy for the benefit of the Syrian people. The IAEA will also intensify efforts in supporting Syria in terms of cancer care, in line with its Rays of Hope initiative, which provides life-saving equipment and treatment to help cancer patients in countries where the need is greatest.

Prior to meetings in Damascus with the President and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, Grossi visited the Al-Bairouni Hospital. Syria’s national cancer control capacities were assessed in late 2022 by the IAEA and its partners in an imPACT Review. The review found that Syria, like many other middle-income countries in the Arab world, is facing a significant increase in the occurrence of cancer cases. Cancer cases and deaths are expected to double between 2020 and 2030. Childhood cancers make up around 5-10% of the cancer burden in the country, with approximately 1,500 new cases each year.

Cancer is too often detected late or at an advanced stage in Syria, presenting a formidable challenge for healthcare providers. The 2022 imPACT review concluded that this cancer burden could be alleviated by early detection schemes, particularly for breast and prostate cancers.

Syria has two well-equipped paediatric oncology centres with multidisciplinary cancer care that treat more than 50% of paediatric cancer patients. However, many children do not complete the recommended treatment due to drug shortages and service disruptions. An increase in childhood cancers is coupled with limited access to diagnostic imaging, radiotherapy and nuclear medicine, due to shortages of equipment and technology as well as an inadequate workforce and heavy workloads.

The 2022 review recommended that a national action plan be developed for Syria and implemented with IAEA and WHO support – including the development of a cancer registry and surveillance tools, the establishment of a national radiotherapy programme and the implementation of accredited training programmes in diagnostic imaging and nuclear medicine.

The IAEA delivered support totalling €1.75m ($1.9m) to Syria following the devastating earthquake in February 2023. This support included medical equipment including portable and mobile X ray machines, non-destructive testing devices and portable ultrasound units.

The IAEA and partners will also supply medical equipment to improve long term healthcare capabilities at two hospitals in Syria. Two X ray units, and two CT scanners will be provided to Al Razi Hospital and Aleppo University Hospital to enhance diagnostic capabilities.

Aiding recovery and rebuilding efforts, the IAEA organised a workshop on non-destructive testing (NDT) equipment in May 2023 for local engineers and scientists with assistance from the Atomic Energy Commission of Syria. NDT is used to detect damage in buildings affected by earthquakes. Participants enhanced their knowledge of NDT equipment, provided by the IAEA, and benefited from the expertise of international experts.

A follow-up IAEA workshop is planned for June 2024. It is intended to strengthen and increase the existing capacity in Syria to use NDT. This will enable Syrian experts to assist in future disaster recovery efforts in the region.

Image courtesy of IAEA