Medical Physics for World Benefit (MPWB) is a new volunteer organization with a primary mandate of providing support through training, mentoring and partnering. The overall mission is to yield safe and effective use of physics and technologies in medicine, especially in low-to-middle income settings. MPWB, which is incorporated in Canada and the US, gained formal charitable status in both countries at the end of 2016. It is a membership-driven organization and formally opened its membership process as of 15 June 2017. With a mailing list now exceeding 750 individuals, there is significant interest in support of MPWB activities; its formal membership presently stands at about 140 and is growing daily.

The concept of MPWB came to me while working as a consultant at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in its Human Health Division, between 2009 and 2011. The IAEA has major programmes that provide support and increasing capacity for radiation medicine, especially in LMICs. During that time, I came into contact with Physicien Médical Sans Frontières, a French-based organization with the goal of providing "missions of aid in support of cancer in developing countries". When contacting them about setting up an English-speaking sister organization, the response was very positive.

Thus, in 2011, as part of the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP) Gold Medal award ceremony, I announced my interest in developing MPWB. The response to that announcement, and to several informal meetings held at the COMP and American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM) annual scientific meetings, was more than enthusiastic. It became clear that there were many medical physicists who were eager to get involved, but were not sure how.


For world benefit

While the initial phase of MPWB was developed through a steering committee, it now has a board of directors of well-known medical physicists from Canada and the US, each of whom serves or has served in significant organizational positions within the AAPM, COMP or the Canadian College of Physicists in Medicine (CCPM).

The initial corporate registration of MPWB was under the name "Medical Physicists Without Borders". However, during 2016, we received letters from Doctors Without Borders USA and Doctors Without Borders Canada asking us not to use "Without Borders" in our name or trademark. To maintain the acronym "MPWB", we rebranded to "Medical Physics for World Benefit" … a name that we feel is more original and better represents our activities.

A major emphasis of MPWB is to work in close partnerships with other organizations that support the enhancement of medical physics activities, as well as working closely with medical physics colleagues in lower-income settings. To this end, MPWB has developed a joint memorandum of understanding with the AAPM and is working on a similar relationship with the International Organization of Medical Physicists (IOMP).

Furthermore, in reviewing potential projects, MPWB continues to seek the input of the IAEA in terms of their activities in different countries. Here, MPWB's goal is to add value and not to overlap with other activities. In a similar vein, MPWB is in close communication with International Cancer Experts Corps (ICEC), with two of the MPWB board members being on its advisory board.

While MPWB is not involved in organizing equipment donations, it is partnering with the AAPM/IOMP Equipment Donation Program to provide training support where relevant. In addition to its involvement in radiation oncology medical physics, MPWB also seeks to support other areas such as imaging.

At the present time, MPWB has activities associated with14 LMICs, including discussions about support of various types. Each project contains unique aspects, ranging from providing educational and training support in Master's degree programmes, to providing training support related to a potential donation of a megavoltage therapy machine by the Rotary Club, to seeking an individual at the request of the IAEA to audit a linac commissioning process. Note that MPWB only wishes to provide support where basic infrastructure and staffing exist. It does not want to get involved in projects that are not sustainable once MPWB support is completed.

Focused approach

We are often asked how we differ from other organizations providing international support. Part of the answer is that many of the other organizations have multiple priorities, with international development aid being only a minor component. MPWB's priority is to provide medical physics support to LMIC contexts and seeks to be a grassroots organization by providing support at whatever level is appropriate, be it local, national or regional.

Having completed the bureaucratic formalities of establishing MPWB, we are now beginning a phase of fund raising to support the multiple projects under discussion.

As indicated by the Lancet Oncology Commission report, the need for radiation oncology medical physicists is great. To that can be added another 4000 to 7000 for imaging-related medical physicists over the next 20 years, in those same resource-limited environments. Recognizing this enormous need, MPWB has a vision that supports activities that will lead to a world with full access to effective and safe applications of physics and technology in medicine.

For those who are interested in getting involved, they can find more detail on the MPWB website at www.mpwb.org.

• This article is an extended version of a blog post written by Jake Van Dyk for GlobalRT.