International Agency for Research on Cancer

Governing Council, 45th Session

Lyons, France
13 May 2004

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to take part in the 45th Governing Council session of the International Agency for Research on Cancer. On behalf of the World Health Organization and IARC, I would like to thank the Participating States for their support. I am also glad to have this opportunity to reassert WHO's commitment to the continued strength of our working relationship with IARC.

Cancer causes havoc for millions worldwide, through the illness, death and trauma it inflicts on patients and their families. It also imposes enormous demands and costs on national health services.

Most of the annual global cancer prevalence and its rapid increase are now occurring in low-income and middle-income countries. These are the very countries in which the cost of cancer treatment is least affordable, partly because they still have a high level of infectious disease to contend with. WHO shares IARC’s conviction that the needs of developing countries should take priority in its work.

We have made progress in tackling some of the public health issues raised by cancer. For example, by the year 2000 in the European Union, the number of cancer deaths had fallen by nearly 10% since the mid 1980s.

Despite welcome improvements of this sort, however, IARC is as necessary today as it was four decades ago when it was set up. The agency was founded to promote international collaboration in cancer research on all phases of the causes, treatment and prevention of cancer. It has made a particular contribution to our understanding of the avoidable causes of cancer. This has led to public health and clinical measures which reduce the risk of cancer in populations.

As cancer prevalence increases with the ageing of populations, the need for reliable prevention strategies throughout the world becomes more pressing. IARC should maintain its leading role in building the evidence base for cancer control programmes, especially in developing countries.

In risk reduction, we had a breakthrough last year with the World Health Assembly's adoption of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This has now been signed by 108 countries plus the European Union, and ratified by 12. We are encouraging countries to proceed with ratification as quickly as they can.

Next week, the Health Assembly will consider the WHO global strategy on diet, physical activity and health. This offers our Member States further options for reducing the deaths and suffering caused by noncommunicable diseases.

WHO is playing a leading role in supporting Member States, especially those that are developing countries, in building up their cancer control programmes. In particular, we need to continue to strengthen the coordination between research on specific topics and the translation of the findings into public health policy.

Our increased efforts to reduce the burden of cancer require increased international activity from both IARC and WHO. On behalf of WHO and IARC, I would like, once again, to thank the Participating States for their continued support.

Thank you