Zambia’s first and only cancer treatment hospital that offers radiation therapy opened ten years ago in Lusaka.

The times when nuclear technologies were affordable only for superpowers have gone long ago. Today more and more developing countries around the globe are opting to develop nuclear technologies to make them an integral part of national development and economic empowerment.

African countries are not an exception and have made significant steps in nuclear science development under the guidance of the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) and its key member states.

IAEA organises a rolling programme of training and courses for African professionals from across the continent to gain knowledge and skills in the nuclear field. Recently the IAEA held a workshop in Sudan on nuclear and radiological emergency preparedness for more than 300 participants from around the continent.

The results from East African countries are already substantial. With the help of international training and assistance Tanzanian doctors are now able to deliver more precise radiation cancer treatment with no harm to healthy tissue through 3D scanning.

“We now have the skills to more fully understand the extent of a tumour and ultimately plan better and more precise treatment for our patients,” said Dr Mark Mseti, a radiation oncologist at the Ocean Road Cancer Institute in Dar es Salaam, which receives technical support and equipment through the IAEA. Previously, Dr Mseti participated in IAEA training on 3D planning for target volume definition and contouring for radiotherapy.

The IAEA supports its member states, which include Zambia, to reduce the burden of non-communicable diseases like cancer. To this end the IAEA offers training, coordinates research, provides equipment and technical expertise and hosts scientific fellows, among other services.

The organisation is not alone in these efforts to strengthen the nuclear infrastructure of developing countries. The IAEA and Russian nuclear energy giant Rosatom have reached an agreement aimed at bolstering IAEA assistance to member states that are considering introducing nuclear power or expanding an existing programme.

In Zambia the international assistance led to drastic improvements in the medical sector. The country will expand its cancer treatment facilities and the officials are planning to launch an ambitious project to expand medical services in the country given the successful operation of Cancer Diseases Hospital (CDH) in Lusaka, which has treated 16,000 people in the last decade.

"Without the assistance of the IAEA, it would have been very difficult for us to set up a highly technical centre like this one and care for so many patients," said Dr Lewis Banda, the CDH's Senior Medical Superintendent.

The development of nuclear science made it possible for Zambia to make gains in improving the living standards of people. In this context Zambian government decided to embark on the path of establishing up its own nuclear science and technology programme in collaboration with Russia and Rosatom. The parties have already signed several agreements to start construction of the Zambian Centre for Nuclear Science and Technologies, which will be equipped with laboratories and functional systems for scientific research as well as a multi-purpose research reactor.

The centre will make it possible to conduct research in the radiobiology sphere and establish production of radioisotopes in Zambia for wide application in cancer diagnostics and treatment. It will also provide staff training for the local nuclear industry.

For her part IAEA cancer expert Kristen Hopkins was optimistic about Zambia’s drive towards nuclear development, mentioning that Zambia had an excellent team and a clear vision to develop the nuclear medicine sphere in coming years.

This shows that African countries are well on the way of nuclear development, which will bring long-term social and economic benefits as well as sustainable energy.

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