Malnutrition and hunger can have devastating consequences, contributing to low birth weight, developmental problems, mental retardation, and a weakened immune system.

Supplementation programmes have been used for decades to improve nutrition in developing countries, where nearly 200 million children under 5 years of age suffer from malnutrition. The IAEA’s nutrition programme uses nuclear techniques to monitor a wide variety of nutritional problems and improve the management of food supplementation programmes.

In Latin America, roughly 80 million poor people in the region receive some nutritional support at a cost of billions of dollars to governments. An Agency regional project is providing the information needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these supplementation efforts and is assisting national governments to set baseline nutritional guidelines tailored to local conditions and needs.

The Agency is also supporting research in Senegal to evaluate the effectiveness of a supplementation programme for breastfeeding mothers and children in poor urban areas.

Tuberculosis (TB) and malaria are serious threats to human health in the developing world. TB kills an estimated 1.5 million people each year. Malaria accounts for one in five of all childhood deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.

The IAEA has developed molecular methods that are able to detect drug-resistant strains of both TB and malaria in a matter of hours, rather than the several weeks required by traditional methods. Several projects have been undertaken in Africa using these methods to detect drug-resistant strains, so that appropriate treatment can be started early. In Mali, molecular methods were used to rapidly identify more appropriate drugs to effectively control a malaria epidemic.

While communicable diseases continue to be a priority, the impact of other diseases, like cancer, in the developing world is not insignificant.

The IAEA is working to improve access to radiation therapy in developing countries, where, for example, roughly 200 000 women die each year from cancer of the cervix. Treatment was not available in Ethiopia, where women make up about 70 percent of all cancer patients, until a radiotherapy centre was opened in 1997 with support from the Government and the IAEA.

Another Agency programme in Africa is working to improve the safety and effectiveness of existing radiotherapy treatments in 19 countries and to introduce new and improved techniques at these facilities.

The Agency has also been developing a new radiopharmaceutical to treat primary liver cancer. Thyroid disorders and iodine deficiency disorders affect growth and overall health and can jeopardize children’s mental health. Nuclear techniques play an important role in preventing hypothyroidism and treating thyroid cancer and iodine deficiency.

The IAEA has initiated a project in the Philippines to use these techniques to screen newborns for congenital hypothyroidism.

Human Health

In developing countries, malnutrition, low birth weight, early childhood diseases, communicable diseases, and cancer are significant barriers to good health. The IAEA’s activities focus on the use of nuclear technology to improve human nutrition and to prevent, diagnose and cure communicable and other diseases.

Photo Credits:
WHO/TDR/Crump; P. Rickwood/IAEA.

To learn more about how nuclear science and technology are contributing to sustainable development, visit the IAEA’s WorldAtom website

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