Each year, approximately 3000 cancer patients in Tajikistan require radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Until last week, patients living in the Sughd region, Tajikistan’s northernmost province, would have to travel across 300 kilometres of mountainous roads to reach the country’s only operational radiotherapy clinic, located in the national capital, Dushanbe. On 18 August, this gap separating cancer patients from the care they require was finally closed when a new radiotherapy facility was officially inaugurated in Khujand, the capital of Sughd province.
Rajabboy Ahmadzoda, Governor of the Sughd Region inaugurated the new facility, established with the support of the IAEA. The new radiotherapy department, the first of its kind in Khujand, will increase access to cancer care while simultaneously reducing waiting times and improving equipment usage, elsewhere in the country.
The provision of the new radiotherapy equipment for the Sughd Centre is the latest in a series of advances made by the Government of Tajikistan with the support of the IAEA, through the technical cooperation (TC) programme. Since 2014, a succession of projects have supported the strengthening of cancer services in Dushanbe, and the expansion of radiotherapy treatment to Khujand, by delivering specialized training and equipment.
The Republic Oncological Scientific Centre in Dushanbe has previously been the only provider of radiotherapy services for this nation of nine million, until August 2019. This meant that cancer patients in Tajikistan’s northern Sughd region would have to travel long distances to access the cancer treatment prescribed to them. For many, this journey can be unaffordable. By introducing such services into the northern province, which is home to close to a third of the country’s population, officials aimed to expand access to radiotherapy, which at least half of all cancer patients will require.
In his speech, delivered at the new facility’s inauguration, Governor Ahmadzoda described the challenges borne by cancer patients in the Sughd region in accessing cancer care. He also noted that the demand for services in Dushanbe had placed a heavy load on the country’s only Cobalt-60 machine, which the new regional centre will now help alleviate, thereby improving cancer services for the country’s entire population.
“Statistics from 2010 show that there are more patients in the north suffering from cancer in comparison with other regions of Tajikistan,” said Ilkhom Mirsaidov, Director of the Nuclear and Radiation Safety Agency of Tajikistan. “Government commitment has made this national technical cooperation project possible and we look forward to continued work with the IAEA”.
“Cancer is a growing problem worldwide. Dealing with this issue requires vision and strong partnerships between the public sector, professionals and development partners,” said Ana Raffo-Caiado, Director of the IAEA’s Technical Cooperation Division for Europe. “Tajikistan has made the fight against cancer a priority and has spent the last decade addressing and improving the healthcare system.”
The IAEA has worked with Tajikistan to support the establishment of the new radiotherapy department since the earliest planning phases. In addition to the Cobalt-60 unit, which forms the centrepiece of the new radiotherapy department, the IAEA procured a conventional simulator and a treatment planning system for the Centre, in addition to quality assurance and quality control equipment. TC fellowships were organized with the support of Armenia’s National Centre of Oncology to ensure that the staff of the new radiotherapy department received effective training in the latest technologies and treatment modalities.
“This new department will soon be accepting patients. As it grows in the coming years, it will offer the people of this region readily available access to improved cancer treatment. The centre will also offer new opportunities to medical professionals to further their skills in the field of radiotherapy,” said Raffo-Caiado.